At its inception in 1921, the Amirate of Transjordan had fewer
than 400,000 inhabitants. Of this number, about 20 percent lived in
four towns each having populations of from 10,000 to 30,000. The
balance were farmers in village communities and pastoral nomadic
and seminomadic tribespeople. The amirate's treasury operated on
British financial aid established on the basis of an annual
subsidy. A native civil service was gradually trained with British
assistance, but government was simple, and Abdullah ruled directly
with a small executive council, much in the manner of a tribal
shaykh. British officials handled the problems of defense, finance,
and foreign policy, leaving internal political affairs to Abdullah.
To supplement the rudimentary police in 1921, a reserve Arab force
was organized by F. G. Peake, a British officer known to the Arabs
as Peake Pasha. This Arab force soon was actively engaged in
suppressing brigandage and repelling raids by the Wahhabis. In 1923
the police and reserve force were combined into the Arab Legion as
a regular army under Peake's command
(see Jordan - The Military Heritage
, ch. 5).
In 1923 Britain recognized Transjordan as a national state
preparing for independence. Under British sponsorship, Transjordan
made measured progress along the path to modernization. Roads,
communications, education, and other public services slowly but
steadily developed, although not as rapidly as in Palestine, which
was under direct British administration. Tribal unrest remained a
persistent problem, reaching serious proportions in 1926 in the
Wadi Musa-Petra area. In the same year, Britain attached senior
judicial advisers to Abdullah's government, and formed the
Transjordan Frontier Force. This body was a locally recruited unit
of the British Army assigned to guard the frontier and was distinct
from the Arab Legion
(see Jordan - The Military Heritage
, ch. 5).
Britain and Transjordan took a further step in the direction of
self-government in 1928, when they agreed to a new treaty that
relaxed British controls while still providing for Britain to
oversee financial matters and foreign policy. The two countries
agreed to promulgate a constitution--the Organic Law--later the
same year, and in 1929 to install the Legislative Council in place
of the old executive council. In 1934 a new agreement with Britain
allowed Abdullah to set up consular representation in Arab
countries, and in 1939 the Legislative Council formally became the
amir's cabinet, or council of ministers.
In 1930, with British help, Jordan launched a campaign to stamp
out tribal raiding among the beduins. A British officer, John Bagot
Glubb (better known as Glubb Pasha), came from Iraq to be second in
command of the Arab Legion under Peake. Glubb organized a highly
effective beduin desert patrol consisting of mobile detachments
based at strategic desert forts and equipped with good
communications facilities. When Peake retired in 1939, Glubb
succeeded to full command of the Arab Legion.
Abdullah was a faithful ally to Britain during World War II.
Units of the Arab Legion served with distinction alongside British
forces in 1941 overthrowing the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali regime that had
seized power in Iraq and defeating the Vichy French in Syria.
Later, elements of the Arab Legion were used in guarding British
installations in Egypt.
During the war years, Abdullah--who never surrendered his dream
of a Greater Syria under a Hashimite monarchy--took part in the
inter-Arab preliminary discussions that resulted in the formation
of the League of Arab States (Arab League) in Cairo in March 1945.
The original members of the League of Arab States were Transjordan,
Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Yemen.
In March 1946, Transjordan and Britain concluded the Treaty of
London, under which another major step was taken toward full
sovereignty for the Arab state. Transjordan was proclaimed a
kingdom, and a new constitution replaced the obsolete 1928 Organic
Law. Abdullah's application for membership in the UN was
disapproved by a Soviet Union veto, which asserted that the country
was not fully independent of British control. A further treaty with
Britain was executed in March 1948, under which all restrictions on
sovereignty were removed, although limited British base and transit
rights in Transjordan continued, as did the British subsidy that
paid for the Arab Legion.
By 1947 Palestine was one of the major trouble spots in the
British Empire, requiring a presence of 100,000 troops to maintain
peace and a huge maintenance budget. On February 18, 1947, Foreign
Minister Ernest Bevin informed the House of Commons of the
government's decision to present the Palestine problem to the UN.
On May 15, 1947, a special session of the UN General Assembly
established the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine
(UNSCOP), consisting of eleven members. UNSCOP reported on August
31 that a majority of its members supported a geographically
complex system of partition into separate Arab and Jewish states,
a special international status for Jerusalem, and an economic union
linking the three members. Supported by both the United States and
the Soviet Union, this plan was adopted by the UN General Assembly
in November 1947. Although they considered the plan defective in
terms of their expectations from the mandate agreed to by the
League of Nations twenty-five years earlier, the Zionist General
Council stated their willingness in principle to accept partition.
The Arab League Council, meeting in December 1947, said it would
take whatever measures were required to prevent implementation of
the resolution. Abdullah was the only Arab ruler willing to
consider acceptance of the UN partition plan.
Amid the increasing conflict, the UN Implementation Commission
was unable to function. Britain thereupon announced its intention
to relinquish the mandate and withdrew from Palestine on May 14,
1948. On the same day, the Declaration of the Establishment of the
State of Israel was proclaimed in Jerusalem. Palestinian Arabs
refused to set up a state in the Arab zone.
In quick succession, Arab forces from Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq,
Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia advanced into Israel. Except for
the British-trained Arab Legion, they were composed of
inexperienced and poorly led troops. Abdullah, the sole surviving
leader of the Arab Revolt of World War I, accepted the empty title
of commander in chief of Arab forces extended to him by the Arab
League. His motive for ordering the Arab Legion into action was
expressly to secure the portion of Palestine allocated to the Arabs
by the 1947 UN resolution. The Arab Legion, concentrated on the
East Bank opposite Jericho, crossed the Jordan on May 15 and
quickly captured positions in East Jerusalem and its environs. The
Legion also created a salient at Latrun northwest of Jerusalem to
pinch the Israeli supply line into the city. Abdullah had been
particularly insistent that his troops must take and hold the Old
City of Jerusalem, which contained both Jerusalem's principal
Muslim holy places and the traditional Jewish Quarter. Other Arab
Legion units occupied Hebron to the south and fanned out through
Samaria to the north (Samaria equates to the northern part of the
West Bank--see Glossary).
By the end of 1948, the areas held by the
Arab Legion and the Gaza Strip, held by the Egyptians, were the
only parts of the former Mandate of Palestine remaining in Arab
Early in the conflict, on May 29, 1948, the UN Security Council
established the Truce Commission headed by a UN mediator, Swedish
diplomat Folke Bernadotte, who was assassinated in Jerusalem on
September 17, 1948. He was succeeded by Ralph Bunche, an American,
as acting mediator. The commission, which later evolved into the
United Nations Truce Supervision Organization-Palestine (UNTSOP),
attempted to devise new settlement plans and arranged truces.
Armistice talks were initiated with Egypt in January 1949, and an
armistice agreement was established with Egypt on February 24, with
Lebanon on March 23, with Transjordan on April 3, and with Syria on
July 20. Iraq did not enter into an armistice agreement but
withdrew its forces after turning over its positions to
Data as of December 1989