Bepi Pezzulli
International counsel & foreign policy adviser

Two People, Five States?

Foto: The region administered by the Emirate - CC BY-SA 4.0 - 
Created: 6 April 2020
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
The region administered by the Emirate - CC BY-SA 4.0 - Created: 6 April 2020 - This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license -

“Then go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain and continue along the slopes east of the Sea of Chinnereth. Then the border will go down along the Jordan and end at the Salt Sea. This will be your land, defined by its borders on all sides.”
[Numbers 34:11-12]

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The UN Partition Plan and Transjordan. In a brand new groundbreaking paper, Lt.-Col. Maurice Hirsch, a former Director of the Military Prosecution for Judea and Samaria, revisits a regrettably overlooked subject. He delves into the historical backdrop of the State of Israel’s establishment, shedding fresh light on crucial elements that may elucidate longstanding misunderstandings, demands, and recriminations surrounding the Middle East conflict. With a particular focus on the United Nations General Assembly’s 1947 decision to implement the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine of 1922, Hirsch unravels the narrative behind the UN Partition Plan.

Hirsch emphasizes that the original mandate allocated the entire region from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea for the establishment of a Jewish state and permitted the separation of the “Trans-Jordan” (east of the Jordan River) to create an Arab state. This, Hirsch stresses, constituted the initial iteration of the “two-state solution.”

Hirsch’s study complements an earlier work by Frank Jacobs, a cartographer for The New York Times. Jacobs concurs on the historical context surrounding the creation of Jordan, tracing it back to the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, envisioning mandates for France and Britain in the Middle East. Against this backdrop, Jacobs argues that Sir Winston L.S. Churchill played a pivotal role in altering the fate of Transjordan through a series of lesser-known decisions.

Jacobs recounts that in 1920, when the British Mandate for Palestine was established at the San Remo Conference, adopting the Balfour Declaration of 1917, it envisioned a Jewish national home in all of Palestine. However, in 1921, Churchill, as the British Colonial Secretary, made a significant decision to separate Transjordan from the Mandate. This decision was influenced by strategic considerations, including the geopolitical importance of Transjordan as a transit zone between Palestine and Iraq and its role in an air corridor connecting Britain and the imperial dominions in India.

To justify this separation, a memorandum to HM King George V highlighted the economic interdependence between Transjordan and Palestine while emphasizing the need to interpret the mandate consistently with the support for Arab independence, as agreed in the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence.

On March 31, 1921, the British Foreign Secretary George N. Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston decided to introduce Article 25 into the Mandate for Palestine, stating that in Transjordan, Britain could ‘postpone or withhold’ those articles of the Mandate concerning a Jewish national home. In August 1922, the British government presented a memorandum to the League of Nations, stating that Transjordan would thus be excluded from all provisions dealing with Jewish settlement. The League of Nations approved the exclusion of Transjordan from provisions related to Jewish settlement on August 12, 1922, thereby reducing the territory available for a future Jewish state.

This decision generated discontent among Zionists, who had initially anticipated a more extensive territory for the establishment of the Jewish national home.

The irony lies in Arthur J. Balfour, 1st Earl Balfour, who had promised the Jews a national home in Palestine in 1917 but later supported the modification of the mandate to withdraw Transjordan from the designated area to be split for a Jewish settlement alongside an Arab one.

History unfolded. On May 25, 1946, the earlier emirate became the “Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan,” achieving full independence on June 17, 1946, when, in accordance with the Treaty of London, ratifications were exchanged in Amman.

In 1947, the subsequent rejection of the UN Partition Plan by Arab countries added complexity to the matter, further deviating from the original two-state solution.

In 1949, after annexing the West Bank in Palestine and “uniting” both banks of the Jordan River, Transjordan was constitutionally renamed the “Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” commonly referred to as Jordan.

Overall, this historical account underscores the intricate geopolitical considerations, strategic interests, and shifts in territorial demarcation that shaped the creation of Jordan and its subsequent developments in the broader context of British imperial policies and the League of Nations.

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The Khartoum Summit and the Three-No’s Policy. The delineation of the Jordanian nation has long been a source of division within the Arab world. The 1967 Arab League summit in Khartoum, renowned for its three-No’s policy—No peace, No recognition, and No negotiations with Israel—intensified discord across the region. The financial commitments from affluent Arab nations and the contrasting stance of Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba, who advocated negotiation based on UN resolutions, laid bare internal tensions that persist to this day.

Bourguiba astutely remarked that Jordan was “only the name of a river,” pinpointing a critical issue. While the city of Jerusalem may hold religious significance for Arabs, the slogan “from the river to the sea” presents challenges by potentially encompassing a territorial reconfiguration that transcends Israel. The existence of a Jordanian state overshadowing a Palestinian micro-state has introduced complex issues, especially given historical tensions.

Iraqi writer Ibrahim Al-Zobaidi has consistently highlighted the divergent approach of Bourguiba on the matter. As early as 1965, Bourguiba advocated for a pragmatic stance, facing criticism and accusations of treason for urging Palestinians and Arabs to negotiate based on UN resolutions for the division of all of Palestine.

Tensions escalated on July 18, 1973, when Jordan severed diplomatic ties with Tunisia. The move followed public statements by Bourguiba, characterizing Jordan as artificial and advocating for its replacement with an all-Arab Palestinian nation. This decision came after a tense meeting with Jordanian Ambassador Wajih Kaihlani, during which Bourguiba refused to clarify his remarks. Proposing the implementation of the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan as a solution, Bourguiba challenged the artificial creation of Transjordan at the hands of Churchill.

The summit unfolded in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, during which Israel seized the West Bank from Jordan, the Gaza Strip from Egypt, and the Golan Heights from Syria, with the Sinai Peninsula later returned to Egypt.

The restitution of the Sinai Peninsula from Israel to Egypt was a pivotal moment. It materialized as part of the Camp David Accords, a series of agreements brokered by the United States in 1978. Led by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the accords aimed to establish peace between the two nations. A key component of the accords was Israel’s commitment to return the Sinai Peninsula, occupied since the Six-Day War in 1967, to Egypt. This marked a diplomatic breakthrough, with Israel recognizing Egypt’s sovereignty over the territory. In return, Egypt became the first Arab nation to officially acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, encapsulating the “land for peace” formula. This concept is closely associated with United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, adopted on November 22, 1967, after the Six-Day War. Resolution 242 calls for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied during the conflict, in exchange for peace and the recognition of Israel’s right to exist within secure and recognized boundaries. The formal peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979 solidified diplomatic normalization between the two nations. The restitution of the Sinai Peninsula represented a historic moment in Middle Eastern diplomacy, underscoring Israel’s commitment to abide by Resolution 242—a stance often overlooked by contemporary critics.

After seventy years of conflict, Al-Zobaidi underscores the role of the Khartoum summit in perpetuating division. Over the past 30 years, the consistent messaging from Palestinian authorities has centered on denying Israel’s legitimacy, fostering anti-Israel sentiments, and advocating for its destruction.

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Jordan’s Dilemma and the Quest for a Creative Solution in the Middle East. To this day, Amman remains a significant stumbling block. Col. Eran Lesman, Vice President of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, sheds light on Jordan’s reservations regarding potential shifts in the status quo in Jerusalem and the prospect of Saudi Arabia assuming a more prominent role in the city. Traditionally, Jordan has considered itself the custodian of Jerusalem’s Islamic and Christian holy sites. Recent developments, such as the Trump administration’s Peace to Prosperity Plan and the Abraham Accords, have heightened Jordan’s concerns about Jerusalem.

The Hashemite Kingdom is wary that Saudi Arabia, already overseeing Mecca and Medina, may seek a monopoly over Islam’s holiest sites, including Jerusalem. The historical rivalry between the Hashemites and the House of Saud dates back to the early 20th century. Following the loss of Mecca, the Hashemites redirected their focus to Jerusalem, gaining influence when they ruled the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967.

Jordan’s fear of losing its historical custodianship role in Jerusalem is exacerbated by the potential for a Saudi-Israeli deal that could lead to Saudi recognition of Israel. While diplomatically significant, such a scenario poses risks for Jordan, as the loss of its role in Jerusalem may impact its stability, domestic unity, and regional peace efforts.

For these reasons, Ali Shihabi, a Saudi Arabia watcher, advocates for a radical rethinking of the approach to resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict due to an insurmountable power imbalance. He proposes that Palestinians accept the reality of Israel’s existence, acknowledging its establishment’s historical context, including British imperialism and US support.

The proposed solution entails redefining the Palestinian problem with a focus on obtaining legal identity and globally respected citizenship, rather than the ownership of ancestral land. Shihabi suggests that Jordan could play a crucial role in this redefinition, envisioning an enlarged kingdom that includes present-day Jordan, Gaza, and the West Bank. This enlarged kingdom would provide Palestinians with citizenship, fostering economic growth and prosperity.

To support this plan, Palestinians in Arab countries like Lebanon could become citizens of this enlarged kingdom while maintaining residency rights in their host countries. The international community, including the GCC, the EU, the US, and Canada, could aid this solution by facilitating easier access to their labor markets for those holding the proposed Jordanian-Palestinian passport.

Jordanians and Palestinians, inherently akin in their Sunni Arab heritage and geographical proximity, exhibit striking similarities. The notion of amalgamating these communities does not inherently sow enduring ethnic or sectarian divisions. It is crucial to recognize that the Jordanian national identity, a construct hewn in the crucible of the Syrian Desert post-World War I, is a product of historical circumstances rather than an organic evolution.

To solve the puzzle in the Middle East, the importance of imagination in finding a solution to the conflict is highlighted, with a warning that a lack of creativity, combined with unrealistic expectations on both sides, may lead to a disastrous outcome for the region.

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Two People, Four States. Persisting in the face of historical setbacks, the West clings to the flawed concept of a two-state solution, from the disappointments of Camp David in 2000 to Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2008. To break free from this impractical narrative, it is imperative to reconsider the geopolitical reality that Jordan is Palestine. This alternative perspective challenges the viability of a micro-state of Palestine, asserting it as another artificial entity on Ottoman Empire territory post-World War I.

The notion that Jordan is Palestine is central to the strategic ethos of the Likud party. A 1988 paper by Daniel Pipes investigates the matter thoroughly. Dating back to the 1920s, visionary Vladimir Z. Jabotinsky highlighted Palestine’s main geographical feature—the meandering Jordan River, suggesting that it defies conventional borders. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir echoed this sentiment in 1982, arguing that a second Palestinian state to the west of the river would lead to anarchy. History has proven him right.

Riccardo Bruno‘s acerbic commentary on La Voce Repubblicana underlines the incongruity of the current state of affairs. In the Greco-Roman era, Palestine comprised two Semitic peoples. Today, despite the Semitic peoples remaining two, the number of states has multiplied to four—Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. The prospect of adding a fifth state raises historical echoes of Caliph Abu Bakr’s ambitious plan to conquer all of Palestine and even western Persia. In this scenario, even Iran can’t rest easy.

Despite the historical intricacies and geopolitical shifts, the courage to propose openly the alternative solution is lacking, overshadowed by six decades of Arab propaganda shaping global perceptions. The continuous pursuit of the two-state solution fails to consider the historical roots and complex dynamics of the region.

The Middle East demands a paradigm shift away from the impracticality of the two-state solution. The assertion that Jordan is Palestine, deeply rooted in Likud’s strategic ethos, offers a fresh perspective on historical realities. As we confront the absurdity of adding a fifth state to the region, the need for a comprehensive re-evaluation becomes increasingly evident. The region’s future lies in imaginative solutions that break free from long-held narratives, acknowledging the historical intricacies that have shaped the complex landscape of the Middle East.

About the Author
Giuseppe Levi Pezzulli ("Bepi") is a Solicitor specialised in International financial law and a foreign policy scholar. His research interest is economic statecraft. In 2018, he published "An alternative view of Brexit" (Milano Finanza Books), which investigates the economic and geopolitical implications of Brexit. In 2023, "Brave bucks" (Armando Publishing House), which highlights the role of private capital in the industrial policy mix. Formerly an Editor-in-Chief of La Voce Repubblicana; is a columnist for the Italian daily financial newspaper Milano Finanza; a pundit for the financial TV channel CNBC; and a Middle East analyst for Longitude magazine. He received degrees at Luiss Guido Carli in Rome (LLB), New York University (LLM), and Columbia University (JD).
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