A Forgotten Geo-Political Name Game: Palestine-Israel-Jordan

Michael Zimmerman writes in the American Thinker:

During the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s, most people who followed the politics and events dealing with Palestine and the Jewish Homeland or Israel well understood that the land across the Jordan River (south of Syria) was the eastern portion of the Palestine Mandate. Might the discussion of establishing an additional state or two in what was western Palestine (now Israel, plus Judea-Samaria/West Bank, and Gaza) be expanded to consider an additional state in eastern Palestine?

The overall Palestine Mandate was allocated to Great Britain by the League of Nations in the early 1920s. It had been homeland of the Jews (during biblical and Second Temple times) and would be again, and a home to Arabs. Virtually immediately the Brits broke up the Palestine Mandate area into two zones (east and west) divided by the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, and the Arava – the dry deep rift that ran south from the Dead Sea.

The sea to the south, below the rift, is variously known as the Gulf of Eilat to Israelis or the Gulf of Aqaba to Jordanians – also an example of dual names put into play for political purposes. (Two other such political geography name competitions come immediately to mind: the Persian Gulf versus the Arabian Gulf, and the Sea of Japan versus the Eastern Sea between Japan and Korea. For that matter, the names used for battles between Union and Confederate armies in the American Civil War reflect political orientation: Bull Run versus Manassas, Antietam versus Sharpsburg, Pittsburg Landing versus Shiloh.)

The land area of the Palestine Mandate, initially to be homeland of Jews and a home among others to Arabs, by the mid-1920s was redefined administratively by the British to have just the one-quarter west of the Jordan River and running to the Mediterranean Sea be homeland of both Jews and Arabs. This area includes what today are the State of Israel, Judea-Samaria or the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip area.

The three-quarters of the complete land of Palestine as defined by the League of Nations east of the deep rift along the Jordan River/Dead Sea/Arava line was to be exclusively Arab (Jews were to be excluded).  The whole area is also sometimes although seldom referred to as the Complete Land of Israel.

Accordingly two asymmetries have come into play. One is regarding population: Jews and Arabs in western Palestine and only Arabs in eastern Palestine (Jordan). Second is the size differential – the eastern portion of Palestine (now called Jordan) for only Arabs is about three times the size as the western portion for Jews and Arabs. These are dramatic asymmetries and yet they are largely unnoticed in political discourse.

The Arabs already living in eastern Palestine were to be administered from the 1920s (as per British decision) by the leaders of the Hashemite tribe which had migrated from the south (from the Arabian Peninsula, now mostly ruled by Saudi Arabia) while fighting the Ottomans during World War One alongside the British and advised by the Brit intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence, i.e., Lawrence of Arabia.

This eastern three-quarters of the original Palestine Mandate was to continue to be part of the British Mandate of Palestine allocated officially by the League of Nations, but that eastern area would be administered separately from the one-quarter of the Mandate of Palestine west of the river, which was left to include Jews. The area east of the river was now defined as the Emirate of Transjordan (“trans-“ referring to “over the Jordan River”), while still part of the overall Mandate. In 1946 the British voluntarily bestowed independence on the Transjordan portion of Palestine, and the new state was named the Kingdom of Transjordan.

Most people have forgotten that the land today called the Kingdom of Jordan was, when the Palestine Mandate was initially formed in the early 1920s for administration by the British, to have included Arabs and Jews, and that there long has been an Arab state in Palestine (officially an independent state since 1946), i.e., the Kingdom of Jordan.

Israel declared its independence in western Palestine in May 1948 after several years of combating the British with their restrictive controls (minimizing Jewish immigration by sea to the Jewish homeland, while facilitating Arab migration by land), while Transjordan (later renamed Jordan) had independence bestowed on it by Britain in 1946. The event in 1946 was largely ignored, preoccupied as the world was by the chaos of and following World War Two. The Jews then living in Transjordan (eastern Palestine), not many, were expelled.

And so Western Palestine was to be both Jewish and Arab while Eastern Palestine (now Transjordan) was just Arab. Keep in mind that the original Palestine Mandate included what is today the State of Israel, the Kingdom of Jordan, and what today are the still quite disputed territories sometimes known as the Gaza Strip and Judea-Samaria or the West Bank. (And for that matter, the State of Israel in whatever borders is still disputed, rejected, by many Arab- or Moslem-led political entities.)

The new State of Israel’s first major war with regional Arab states in 1948-1949 was generally successful for Israel. It fought off conquest by military units from the four adjacent and two more distant Arab states (Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon plus Iraq and Saudi Arabia). However, in that war the Kingdom of Transjordan (occupying the three-quarter portion of the original Palestine Mandate east of the Jordan River), while not conquering Israel, did gain some land/terrain west of the river, territory it proceeded to call the West Bank. It soon (by 1950) changed its name as a political entity, a state, from the “Kingdom of Transjordan” to the “Kingdom of Jordan.” Now the Arab state in what had been the Palestine Mandate was not only located trans-Jordan (across the Jordan), but on both sides of the Jordan River.

A suggestion: check out the history related above in encyclopedias published earlier in the Twentieth Century, mid-Century and earlier. I recall browsing an edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica from the 1910s (don’t recall the exact year) and finding many references to the areas called “Judea,” “Samaria,” “Galilee,” and no mention at all of political concepts or places now called “West Bank,” “Transjordan,” “Jordan.”

A question: what does “West Bank” refer to if in the uncapitalized form “west bank”? The “west bank” (of the Jordan River) is “all” of the land west of the river. While the term “West Bank” capitalized refers to precisely the disputed area west of the Jordan River controlled by the state of Jordan from 1948 through 1967, by Israel since, with the latter recently allocating some control over portions to the Palestinian Authority.

Historical facts do not go away, although they may be ignored for a long, long time. What are or might be the long-term (much less the short-term, i.e., until now) implications of the Kingdom of Jordan being formed from and standing on eastern Palestine?

Some people talk of a one, two or three state solution for the land of the Palestine Mandate west of the Jordan River (on Israel’s side of the river). Might a symmetrical political conversation be initiated for a two state solution in Palestine east of the Jordan River – one ruled by Arabs who define themselves as Hashemite, and one by Arabs who call themselves Palestinian?


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