According to the Palestinian narrative, the Nakba, which translates as catastrophe or disaster in Arabic, began in 1948 with the founding of the State of Israel and the dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs from their homes. To this day, Palestinians still blame Israel for the fact that they do not have a country of their own. In my opinion, they are blaming the wrong people.
Those of you who have studied the Israeli-Palestinian conflict know that when the first Arab-Israeli war ended in 1949, Israel did not control all of what used to be the British Mandate of Palestine. Israel did control the vast majority of it; around 78%. But of course, there was still the other 22% that Israel did not manage to take during the war. This territory is what is known today as the West Bank and Gaza Strip. At the end of the war, the West Bank came under Transjordanian control, while the Gaza Strip was controlled by Egypt. The leaders of Transjordan and Egypt could very well have decided to grant the Palestinians in these two territories independence, but they had other ideas. Instead of giving this land to the Palestinians for a state, the Egyptians and Tranjordanians kept it for themselves. The Gaza Strip remained under Egyptian control, though Egypt never formally annexed the territory. In contrast, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem with all of its holy places, was formally annexed by Transjordan, whose Hashemite rulers subsequently changed the name of the country to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Palestinians in the West Bank were given Jordanian citizenship and the territory was fully integrated into the newly-expanded Hashemite realm. This annexation was not recognized by the Arab League, but up until 1967, when the West Bank was captured by Israel, there was no talk of a Hashemite “occupation”. In fact, the real occupation today is not Israel’s control over the West Bank. It is the Hashemite family’s control of what used to be an integral part of Palestine which we know today as Jordan.
The Birth of an Illegitimate Regime
The origins of today’s Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan go back all the way to the First World War. For centuries, the Hashemite family, descended directly from Islam’s founder, the Prophet Mohammed, were the guardians or “Sharifs” of Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. Once WWI began, it was this family, led at the time by Sharif Hussein bin Ali, which led the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. The flag that today represents the Palestinian people was originally the flag representing this revolt. In fact, today’s Jordanian flag is almost exactly the same except for the white star representing the ruling Hashemite family that appears in the horizontal red triangle.
The British promised the Hashemites an independent state encompassing all the Arab territories of the Ottoman realm once the war had ended. But this promise was not kept. Instead, the British and their French allies secretly negotiated the partition of the Ottoman Empire amongst themselves in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. Nevertheless, the Hashemites were bent on claiming the independent state that the British had promised them and so in March 1920, a new Arab state encompassing what is now Jordan, Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq was proclaimed in Damascus with bin Ali’s son, Faisal, as its head of state. Four months later, however, French military forces crushed the rebellion and Faisal was forced out of Damascus.
The former Arab territories of the Ottoman Empire were ultimately divided into separate British and French mandates authorized by the League of Nations. The Hashemites were installed as the rulers of two of the British mandates: Iraq and Transjordan, the latter of which was originally part of the British Mandate of Palestine. In 1922, however, the League of Nations recognized it as a separate British mandate, which would be excluded from the Balfour Declaration and the British promise to the Zionist movement for a Jewish national home in Palestine. Hence, what should have been an independent Arab state in the eastern part of Palestinian was instead carved up and given to foreign rulers, whose original homeland was in Mecca. This was the first time that the Palestinian Arabs were cheated out of a country of their own, not by Jews, but by their own fellow Arabs. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last.
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and despite the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes, Palestine could still have been a country in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinians could have had East Jerusalem as their capital. But the Egyptians and Hashemites decided to betray their fellow Arabs and kept the land for themselves. For their part, the Hashemites did grant the Palestinians in the West Bank full Jordanian citizenship. In fact, the Palestinians, even to this day, are the majority population in Jordan. However, it is the Hashemites that rule the roost. The parliament and elections are rigged so that disproportionately greater representation is given to the Hashemites’ Bedouin supporters rather than the Palestinian majority. And even if this were not the case, it is the Hashemite King of Jordan, now King Abdullah II, who has the ultimate power. Basically, the Hashemites and their Bedouin supporters are a minority that rules over a Palestinian majority. There’s a word for this kind of setup: Apartheid – the same kind of apartheid that saw a white minority rule over a black majority in South Africa. I find it ironic, then, that it is Israel and not Jordan that is called an apartheid state.
Eastern Palestine and Gaza: A Better Future for the Palestinian People
In my humble and honest opinion, the Palestinians are wasting their time trying to fight the Israelis for that tiny piece of land we now call the West Bank. They should instead focus their attention on bringing down the illegitimate Hashemite rulers of what is rightfully the eastern part of Palestine. The Palestinians already have the Gaza Strip back, but if they were able to regain control of eastern Palestine and drive the Hashemites out, they would have a country that would be bigger than Israel and that would have access to not one, but two seas, the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, just as Israel does today. In contrast, even if the Palestinians managed to get control of the entire West Bank, they would only have access to one sea and have much less territory to make use of. Furthermore, if the Palestinians wrested control of eastern Palestine from the Hashemites, they would also wrest control of its state infrastructure and institutions. They would not have to worry about building a new state from scratch as is currently being attempted by the Palestinian Authority. Finally, a Palestinian state in eastern Palestine and the Gaza Strip would not face as many limitations on its sovereignty as would a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, simply because Israel wouldn’t insist on demilitarization or other limits on Palestinian sovereignty to protect itself in the same way it does now when faced with the prospect of another Arab state west of the Jordan river.
I am not saying that the Palestinians should forfeit whatever legitimate rights they may have in the the rest of the region of Palestine. But what I am saying is that for the purpose of founding a country of their own so that none of their people will ever have to languish in a refugee camp again, it would be more feasible for the Palestinians and their leaders to focus on liberating the part of their country that they seem to have forgotten about – the part occupied by the Hashemites, who unlike the Palestinians’ Jewish enemies, have no legitimate claim to the land which they control, historical or otherwise.
First published on July 3, 2014