In Search of a Solution to the Palestinian Problem
Jordan's relations with the PLO have reflected the conflicting
territorial claims of the Palestinians and Jordan. Since the June
1967 War, both the PLO and Jordan have staked claims to the West
Bank and East Jerusalem. Although Hussein and the PLO, like the
rest of the Arab world, have rejected Israeli suzerainty over the
territories, they differed widely on how the occupied territories
should be administered and by whom.
Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, Jordan asserted its
role in the lives of West Bank Palestinians in various ways. Jordan
distributed financial assistance, oversaw the freedom of movement
of people and merchandise across the bridges of the Jordan River,
assumed the role of protector of the rights of the population under
Israeli occupation, and sought the condemnation of Israel in the
international community for alleged acts of injustice against the
people of the West Bank. Beginning in 1979, individuals from the
West Bank, like other Jordanian citizens, were required to obtain
new identity cards to benefit from Jordanian government services
and to obtain Jordanian passports. Mutual mistrust, however, had
prevented agreement between Jordan and the PLO on any form of longterm political cooperation beyond the joint distribution of funds
to the occupied territories.
Jordanians, however, remained adamantly opposed to the fedayeen
reestablishing bases in Jordan from which to launch guerrilla
operations against Israel. Hussein feared that Israel, maintaining
a distinct military advantage over the badly divided Arab states,
would launch punishing reprisal raids against Jordan if guerrilla
operations were to resume. This appraisal was strongly reinforced
by the Israeli air raid on the Iraqi nuclear reactor in June 1981.
During the second half of 1980, talk of the so-called
"Jordanian option" revived because of the approaching elections in
Israel, President Ronald Reagan's election victory in the United
States, and talk of a new European initiative in the Middle East.
On the surface, the Jordanian option resembled Hussein's version of
a settlement with Israel; it envisioned Jordan acting as the major
Arab interlocutor in a peace settlement with Israel. Jordan,
however, could not outwardly appear as if it were breaking away
from the Arab fold and usurping Palestinian prerogatives, unless it
were likely that concessions made by Jordan would be reciprocated
by Israel. Given the right-wing Likud government in power in
Israel, Hussein surmised that such Israeli territorial concessions
would not be forthcoming.
As a result, Jordan's public posture on the Palestinian
question was ambiguous. In public statements acknowledging PLO
representation of the Palestinian people Hussein frequently
emphasized the important role Jordan had played in the Palestinian
struggle against Israel. Moreover, he rarely identified the PLO as
the "sole" legitimate representative of the Palestinians.
Data as of December 1989