Avi Plascov, The Palestinian Refugees in Jordan, 1948-1957 (London: Frank Cass, 1981).
Peter Gubser, Jordan: Crossroads of Middle Eastern Events (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983).
Avi Plascov provides us with a solid piece of research on a neglected topic. He debunks the commonly-held belief that the refugee camps were hotbeds of seditious political activity, a picture fostered by the Jordanian regime to justify a high level of political surveillance and intrusion. The refugees were a political problem owing to their very existence, not to self-directed political organization. They created for Jordan an insoluble dilemma: Full integration into the Jordanian polity implied Jordan’s acceptance of Israel, while non-integration was economically unfeasible. Either alternative threatened the stability of the regime. The compromise, laid in the 1948-1957 period, was economic participation at the expense of political satisfaction. Pan-Arab nationalism, by which all Arabs equally were deemed to be committed to have suffered the loss of Palestine and to be committed to its recovery, served to paper over the inconsistencies of this approach.
The book is marred, but not seriously, by its irritating overuse of abbreviations for political parties and refugee organizations, and by occasional unsupported and incorrect assertions. For example, the author states that Britain permitted Jordanian forces to remain in Palestine as Britain pulled out before May 15, 1948, to give Jordan a tactical advantage over Jewish and other Arab forces. This simply is not true; all such forces were out of Palestine by May 14. An especially useful contribution is the detailed maps tucked into a folder at the back of the book of villages and towns along the Jordan-Israel armistice line, Jewish landholdings in Palestine as of 1944, various UNRWA services, and villages and towns of the West Bank (missing in reviewer’s copy).
Peter Gubser’s book, one of a profile series entitled “Nations of the Contemporary Middle East,” is a classic of its type: long on description, but exceedingly short on analysis. It presents accurate factual information culled from official sources, newspapers and a variety of secondary sources. Unfortunately, the emphasis on a factual superstructure inevitably obscures the dynamic aspects of social, political and economic relations both within Jordan and between it and the rest of the world. For example, we are told that Britain, the United States and the Arab countries successively have contributed large amounts to the Jordanian budget, but not why these countries should have been interested in doing so. Addressing that question would have revealed more about what makes Jordan tick than the statistics and descriptions of development plans which were presented. Nevertheless, given the meager literature about Jordan, this is a welcome, if pedestrian, addition.