Wed Jun 19, 2024
June 19, 2024

The Jordanian Monarchy: An Asset for Imperialism in the Middle East


Every night for weeks now, the people of Jordan have poured into the square in front of the Israeli embassy in the capital city of Amman. Their sympathies are clear from the Palestinian flags they carry and the ubiquity of the Palestinian keffiyeh scarf among the demonstrators. These massive pro-Palestine demonstrations have shaken up the political scene in Jordan and levied a series of very concrete demands against their king. Every night in Amman they call for the Kingdom of Jordan to revoke its 1994 peace treaty with Israel, expel the Israeli embassy from Amman, and terminate all economic agreements with the Zionist state.

Since the beginning of the war in October, the Jordanian government has taken great pains to stress the humanitarian aid it is providing on the ground in Gaza, and made statements condemning Israel’s killings. But it has been far more reluctant to take any concrete actions against the Zionist state. For example, in October, King Abdullah II canceled a planned meeting with Biden over his support for the Israeli slaughter in Gaza. However, he quickly reversed this stance and became the first Arab leader to meet with Biden since the war began, when he visited D.C. in February. Despite being critical of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Abdullah has refused to consider canceling Jordan’s peace deal with Israel and has continued economic cooperation with the Zionist state around gas and water.

This kind of passivity has done nothing but encourage mass demonstrations in Amman. While crackdowns at the end of 2023 created an abortive calm, the re-emergence of regular demonstrations this spring have raised fears in the government of a political crisis in the country, which has long resisted democratic reforms. The prevalence of pro-Hamas chants and slogans at demonstrations has caused the government to accuse protest organizers of being foreign agents. However, protesters have told the media that their admiration for Hamas is due to the group’s willingness to fight back against Israel. Indeed, the government’s fears can be felt in the brutality of crackdowns against the pro-Palestinian protesters. Amnesty International estimates that the government has arrested 1500 demonstrators since the Gaza war began in October. This is the harshest Jordanian crackdown on political activity since the Arab Spring, even larger than the mass arrests of striking teachers in 2020. In fact, it seems like Jordan has done more concrete work to suppress pro-Palestinian organizing then it has to oppose Israel’s genocide in Gaza.

Jordan’s lack of action against Israel is not unique; it is part of a larger pattern of inaction by the governments of Arab majority states, which has frustrated activists around the world. Like Jordan, the vast majority of the population in these countries supports taking direct action against Israel, but their authoritarian governments are much more passive and participate in economic and political collaboration with the Zionist regime.

What is unique about Jordan is that the population of the country is heavily Palestinian, with unofficial estimates ranging between 40% and 70%. (The government of Jordan does not officially keep track of this number, probably so as to avoid admitting that Palestinians make up the majority of its population.) A democratic government that is reflective of popular opinion would thus almost certainly take concrete steps in support of Palestinian resistance. Yet Jordan’s government instead limits itself to humanitarian airdrops and public criticism. This is because, like many of the states in the region, Jordan is not only an autocracy but also what Marxists call a semi-colonial state. Such states are formally independent, but in reality, are subordinated to the great imperialist powers of the world like the United States. In order to understand why Jordan is a semi-colonial state and the role its government plays in the region, it is important to understand the country’s history.

The Creation of the Hashemite Monarchy

The country we now call Jordan was originally part of the British colony of Mandatory Palestine, which was just one piece of a broader mosaic of European colonies created in the Middle East after the end of the First World War. During the war, the British negotiated the secret Sykes-Picot agreement with the French, Italians, and Russian Empire. Sykes-Picot was a plan by which these powers agreed to carve up the Ottoman Empire between each other. After the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks published the deal, exposing the covert plans of the great powers. This caused international furor, but especially in the Arab World.

The British had conveniently “forgotten” that they had already negotiated a deal with the aristocratic Hashemite House of Mecca, whom they granted rulership over a unified Syrian Arab Kingdom in exchange for Arab support against the Ottomans. After the war had ended, the League of Nations upheld the French claim over Syria, and the French army removed the Hashemite King Faisal from Damascus. This infuriated his brother, the Hashemite Prince Abdullah, who raised an army in Arabia and marched against French Syria. The British, eager to avoid war between their French and Arab allies, offered the prince all of Mandatory Palestine east of the Jordan River as his own kingdom. Abdullah accepted and would go on to be Jordan’s first king.

This new agreement, granting Jordan to Abdullah, infuriated the Zionists, who felt that it violated Britain’s prior promise of a “Jewish home in Palestine,” as stated in the Balfour declaration. To this day, some right-wing Zionist organizations continue to claim that Jordan should rightfully be part of Israel. The British, however, as they repeatedly have demonstrated, had no problem going back on previous deals, and immediately set about helping Abdullah to establish his new country, sending both military and political advisors. This British “help” to Abdullah firmly cemented Jordan as a British semi-colony, and ensured that the Hashemite monarchy would not do anything to undermine British interests in the region.

The newly minted King Abdullah of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan wasted no time in considering how to expand his tiny arid state. He quickly developed ambitions to rule over the Arab population of the wealthier and more temperate neighboring Palestine. This ambition was reflected in the king’s offer of “protection” to the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee in the 1940s.

In his book “The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine,” Palestinian scholar Rashid Khalidi tells the story of how his father carried a rejection of that offer to King Abdullah on the eve of the 1947 Nakba. Upon hearing the rejection, the king ended the audience and told Khalidi’s father that “you Palestinians have refused my offer. You deserve what happens to you.” This comment was a reference to the United Nations partition plan that had been announced that same day, which ordered the separation of Palestine into one Jewish and one Arab state.

Indeed, for King Abdullah, the partition plan was no surprise; he had been secretly negotiating with the British and the Zionists since the 1930s for control over whatever portion of Palestine was to be allotted to the Arab Palestinians. In 1948, after the UN proposal failed and war broke out for control of Palestine, Abdullah’s Arab Legion crossed the Jordan River under the command of British officers, occupying what is now known as the West Bank. The IDF was not able to overcome the experienced and well-armed Arab Legion, and Abdullah succeeded in seizing for himself part of Palestine, which he officially annexed into the Hashemite Kingdom in 1950.

Abdullah ultimately met his fate at the hands of Palestinian revolutionaries after Friday prayers at the al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. However, Jordan’s role as a British semi-colony in the region, and its willingness to collaborate with the Zionists continued during the rule of his grandson, King Hussein.

The 1967 War and the Battle of Karameh

In 1967, King Hussein’s control over the West Bank came to an end at the hands of an Israeli war of conquest. The war began with an Israeli aerial surprise attack against Egypt that wiped out the majority of the Egyptian air force. The attack on Egypt drew its Jordanian and Syrian allies into the war, and within six days the IDF had won decisive victories against the allied states. This defeat for the Arab forces came to be known as the Naksa, or setback.

During the war, Israel was able to seize the West Bank and Jerusalem from Jordan, alongside other territories from Egypt and Syria. This compounded the existing Palestinian refugee crisis that had existed since 1948, as further Palestinian refugees fled these territories, especially into Jordan and Lebanon. Along with the refugees, Palestinian guerrilla fighters, known as fedayeen, fled across the river into the Hashemite kingdom. There, under the command of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), they began to launch daring cross-border raids against the Zionist state.

This cross-border war escalated in 1968 when Israel violated its ceasefire agreement with Jordan, and launched an attack against the PLO headquarters in the Jordanian town of Karameh. What was supposed to be a quick Israeli strike turned into a 15-hour-long battle with Palestinian fedayeen from Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction and their Jordanian army allies. While Israel was able to kill 120-150 fedayeen, and destroy the fedayeen base in Karameh, the IDF took heavy causalities, including the loss of tanks and aircraft. Karameh shattered the IDF’s image as an “invincible force,” and lent great prestige to Arafat and Fatah. This caused a political firestorm in Jordan, especially among the Palestinian and refugee communities, as thousands began to seek out and join the many fedayeen factions. Almost immediately, the growth of fedayeen factions led to armed conflict with the Hashemite regime in Jordan, eventually causing the crisis known as Black September

Black September and Civil War in Jordan

By the spring of 1970, the influx of refugees and the growth of the fedayeen had caused full-on social conflict in Jordan. While the largest Palestinian faction, Fatah, refused to intervene in Jordanian politics, the socialist factions—the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—did not hold back. The DFLP began organizing local councils of both Palestinian and non-Palestinian Jordanians, and the PFLP became involved in the Jordanian labor movement. They even forced a cement company linked to the royal family to sign a union contract and rehire striking workers at gunpoint. As an authoritarian ruler backed by unpopular foreign imperialist powers and ruling over a population that was majority Palestinian, this kind of action directly threatened the existence of the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan.

King Hussein responded by attempting to isolate and eliminate the DFLP, sending the Jordanian army to ambush DFLP fedayeen outside of their stronghold in the Jordanian town of Zarka. In response to the Hashemite provocation, PFLP fedayeen flooded into the capital city of Amman, forcing Hussein to withdraw troops from the Israeli border. Ultimately, the fighting ended with an agreement reached between Arafat and Hussein that legalized the presence of the fedayeen in Jordan, but required them to follow certain rules.

In the summer of 1970, the Nixon administration began a strong effort to restore stability in the region in the wake of the 1967 war, and to normalize relations between Israel and the semi-colonial Arab states of Egypt and Jordan. Jordan and Egypt agreed to Nixon’s ceasefire plan, but Arafat refused to go along with any plan that would normalize the existence of the State of Israel with no recourse for Palestinian self-determination. It was in this context that King Hussein moved to liquidate the fedayeen presence in Jordan entirely. On Sept. 17, 1970, he declared martial law and launched an all-out military assault on the Palestinian community in Jordan.

While Hussein expected to quickly overwhelm the fedayeen with tanks and artillery, the Palestinian forces instead held their own and began to seize control of much of the country. In the northern city of Irbid, the fedayeen even allowed popular committees to bring the city under the control of a revolutionary “people’s congress.” Eventually, armor under the command of the PLO crossed into Jordan from Syria, and joined the fight, further pushing back the Hashemite army.

Nonetheless, the Hashemite army’s indiscriminate use of artillery caused mass casualties, including among Palestinian civilians. Continuing to push on this advantage, eventually Hussein was able to force the fedayeen from most major Jordanian cities, and a ceasefire was brokered between the two sides. Intermittent fighting and ceasefire deals would continue until early 1971, by which point the Hashemite army had gained the upper hand and was able to force the Palestinian leadership to agree to withdraw all fedayeen into the rural north of the country. Finally, in the summer of 1971, a renewed Hashemite offensive led to the expulsion of the fedayeen from Jordan. King Hussein had succeeded in ending the threat to his rule, but at great cost for the Palestinian people.

The 1973 War and Normalization

King Hussein would go on to continue in his role as a traitor amongst the Arab leadership on behalf of the British and the United States, most notably during the 1973 War and its aftermath. The 1973 War had been secretly planned by Syria, with Egyptian backing, as a surprise offensive to reclaim territory Israel had occupied after its victory in 1967. Only a few days before the war was supposed to begin, King Hussein himself personally visited Tel Aviv and, in a clandestine meeting at a Mossad base, informed the Israeli prime Minister, Golda Meir, all about Syria’s secret war plans. This outrageous incident, now exposed due to the declassification of previously secret Israeli documents, demonstrates exactly what role the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan plays in the Arab world—an agent for imperialism. Due to Hussein’s intervention, when the “surprise” Arab offensive began, it was in fact not a surprise at all, eliminating a potential Arab military advantage. Ultimately, the 1973 War ended in a stalemate between Israel and the two Arab states.

After the 1973 War, despite the fact that Jordan and Israel remained officially in a state of war, Hussein continued to participate in secret talks with the Israeli government. Following Egypt’s normalization of relations with Israel in 1978, Hussein agreed to a peace deal with Israel in 1994. As part of this deal, Jordan and Israel normalized relations, recognized each others’ borders, and agreed to the creation of joint economic projects. In doing so, Hussein brought Jordan into the camp of the “normalizers,” Arab governments that work against Palestinian attempts to isolate Israel and instead economically and politically collaborate with Zionism.

Just as apartheid South Africa relied on Portuguese colonialism and Rhodesian white rule to stabilize southern Africa, so too today does Israel rely on its normalization pacts with semi-colonial Arab regimes for stability and economic growth. While Hussein died in 1999, his legacy of collaboration, normalization, and treason to the Palestinian cause, has been continued into the present day by his son, King Abdullah II.

Hashemite Jordan: An Imperialist Asset in the Arab Camp

These historical episodes clearly demonstrate the role that Jordan plays in the Palestinian struggle. While the monarchical regime in Jordan officially proclaims itself a friend of the Palestinian people, and an ally in their fight for self-determination, it actually acts a bulwark against Palestinian revolution. Any potential revolution amongst the Palestinian people would inevitably lead to the destruction of Hashemite rule in Jordan, due to the vast number of Palestinian citizens within the Hashemite kingdom. What’s more, Jordan has always cultivated close ties with the imperialist powers of the UK and U.S. and today receives $1.45 billion a year in direct aid from the United States.

This is why no one in the movement for Palestinian self-determination should take seriously any allegedly pro-Palestinian statements on behalf of King Abdullah II. Like his father and great-grandfather before him, he represents a reactionary and authoritarian elite that, to preserve its own existence, must repress the struggle of Palestinians and cultivate ties with Western imperialism.

This should not be taken to mean that the people of Jordan are somehow an enemy of the Palestinian movement. The reality is quite the opposite. Due to the massive Palestinian population of the country, its geographic location adjacent to Palestine, and its history, the Jordanian struggle for democracy and independence and the Palestinian national struggle are inherently linked. The future of Jordan will be decided by the course of the Palestinian revolution.

The history of Black September demonstrates this connection. Imagine how different things would be for both Palestinians and Jordanians today if the fedayeen had succeeded in overthrowing the Hashemite monarchy in 1970. Palestinians would then have had a base from which to operate against Israel, and Jordanians would have been freed from the authoritarian and repressive Hashemite monarchy.

Ultimately, the Palestinian people and the working masses of the Arab world share the same interests. Every revolution that topples an authoritarian, semi-colonial regime in places like Jordan and Egypt will damage Israel’s position in the region and unleash the support of the Arab masses for Palestine. The Zionist rule over Palestine can only come to an end with the defeat of the Israeli state. The solution for the entire region is thus the same—a mass working-class movement that is capable of overthrowing the semi-colonial Arab regimes, along with a renewal of the Arab military struggle against Israel.

End all peace treaties and economic agreements with Israel! End all military shipments to Israel! End the siege of Gaza now! Down with King Abdullah II and the Hashemite monarchy! For a democratic, secular, Palestine, from the river, to the sea! For a socialist federation of the Middle East!

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