History of Jordan

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THE PRESENT KINGDOM of Jordan has had a separate existence for almost seventy years, from the time of the creation in 1921 of the Amirate of Transjordan under Abdullah of the Hashimite (also seen as Hashemite) family, the grandfather of King Hussein. To form Transjordan, the Palestine Mandate was subdivided along the Jordan River-Gulf of Aqaba line. At its creation, Jordan was an artificial entity because inhabitants of northern Jordan have traditionally associated with Syria, those of southern Jordan have associated with the Arabian Peninsula, and those of western Jordan have identified with Palestinians in the West Bank. Moreover, the area that constituted Jordan in 1990 has served historically as a buffer zone between tribes living to the west of the Jordan River as far as the Mediterranean Sea and those roaming the desert to the east of the Jordan River. Over the centuries, the area has formed part of various empires; among these are the Assyrian, Achaemenid, Macedonian, Nabataean, Ptolemaic, Roman, Ghassanid, Muslim, Crusader, and Ottoman empires.

Transjordan's creation reflected in large measure a compromise settlement by the Allied Powers after World War I that attempted to reconcile Zionist and Arab aspirations in the area. The United Kingdom assumed a mandate over Palestine and Iraq, while France became the mandatory power for Syria and Lebanon. In a British government memorandum of 1922, approved by the League of Nations Council, Jewish settlement in Transjordan was specifically excluded.

As Transjordan moved toward nationhood, the United Kingdom gradually relinquished control, limiting its oversight to financial and foreign policy matters. In March 1946, under the Treaty of London, Transjordan became a kingdom and a new constitution replaced the 1928 Organic Law. The United Kingdom continued to subsidize the Arab Legion, a military force established in 1923. In the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, the Arab Legion gained control for Transjordan of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The war added about 450,000 Palestinian Arab refugees as well as approximately 450,000 West Bank Arabs to the roughly 340,000 East Bank Arabs in Jordan. In December 1948, Abdullah took the title King of Jordan, and he officially changed the country's name to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in April 1949. The following year he annexed the West Bank.

Abdullah was assassinated in Jerusalem in July 1951. Abdullah's son, Talal, who was in ill health, briefly succeeded to the throne before being obliged to abdicate in favor of his son, Hussein, in 1952. Hussein, who had been studying in Britain, could not legally be crowned until he was eighteen; in the interim he attended the British Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and returned to Jordan in 1953 to become king.

Jordan signed a mutual defense pact in May 1967 with Egypt, and it participated in the June 1967 war between Israel and the Arab states of Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. During the war, Israel gained control of the West Bank and all of Jerusalem. In 1988, Jordan renounced all claims to the West Bank but retained an administrative role pending a final settlement, and its 1994 treaty with Israel allowed for a continuing Jordanian role in Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. The U.S. Government considers the West Bank to be territory occupied by Israel and believes that its final status should be determined through direct negotiations among the parties concerned on the basis of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

The 1967 war led to a dramatic increase in the number of Palestinians living in Jordan. Its Palestinian refugee population--700,000 in 1966--grew by another 300,000 from the West Bank. The period following the 1967 war saw an upsurge in the power and importance of Palestinian resistance elements (fedayeen) in Jordan. The heavily armed fedayeen constituted a growing threat to the sovereignty and security of the Hashemite state, and open fighting erupted in June 1970.

No fighting occurred along the 1967 Jordan River cease-fire line during the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war, but Jordan sent a brigade to Syria to fight Israeli units on Syrian territory. Jordan did not participate in the Gulf war of 1990-91. In 1991, Jordan agreed, along with Syria, Lebanon, and Palestinian representatives, to participate in direct peace negotiations with Israel sponsored by the U.S. and Russia. It negotiated an end to hostilities with Israel and signed a peace treaty in 1994. Jordan has since sought to remain at peace with all of its neighbors.

King Hussein ruled Jordan from 1953 to 1999, surviving a number of challenges to his rule, drawing on the loyalty of his military, and serving as a symbol of unity and stability for both the East Bank and Palestinian communities in Jordan. In 1989 and 1993, Jordan held free and fair parliamentary elections. Controversial changes in the election law led Islamist parties to boycott the 1997 elections. King Hussein ended martial law in 1991 and legalized political parties in 1992.

King Abdullah II succeeded his father Hussein following the latter's death in February 1999. Abdullah moved quickly to reaffirm Jordan's peace treaty with Israel and its relations with the U.S. Abdullah, during the first year in power, refocused the government's agenda on economic reform.

Jordan's continuing structural economic difficulties, burgeoning population, and more open political environment led to the emergence of a variety of political parties. Moving toward greater independence, Jordan's Parliament has investigated corruption charges against several regime figures and has become the major forum in which differing political views, including those of political Islamists, are expressed. In June 2001, the King dissolved Parliament. Parliamentary elections are expected to be held next in summer/autumn 2002.

SOURCES: Country Studies/Area Handbook by the US Library of Congress, U.S. Department of State

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Jordan > Map Economy History