Uriel Dann, Studies in the History of Transjordan, 1920-1949 (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1984).

Paul A. Jureidini and R. D. McLaurin, Jordan: The Impact of Social Change on the Role of the Tribes (New York: Praeger, The Washington Papers 108, 1984).

Clinton Bailey, Jordan’s Palestinian Challenge, 1948-1983 (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1984).

The spotlight of international attention has once again turned to Jordan as the “key” to any settlement between Palestinians and Israelis. This renewed interest has been accompanied by a rash of publications. Some are scholarly efforts long in the works; others are quick sketches, designed both to take advantage of the current developments and to put forth certain arguments regarding Jordan’s role in the region, and in Palestinian affairs in particular, under the guise of filling the very significant gap in our knowledge of Jordan.

Uriel Dann’s Studies in the History of Transjordan, 1920-1949 collects articles by Dann previously published between 1956 and 1976, along with two new essays. The major problem with Dann’s work is that he focuses for the most part on short moments. Although these moments might indeed be important, they appear trivial in the absence of an overall analytical framework which would fix them in the ebb and flow of political tides that built up the sandbar of Transjordan. His new introductory essay does not provide such a framework. At best, these essays might prove useful building blocks for future historians.

Jordan: The Impact of Social Change on the Role of the Tribes, by Paul A. Jureidini and R.D. McLaurin, fits into the quick sketch category. The authors are evidently responding to the Israeli claim, not new to Zionist ideology, that “Jordan is Palestine.” Unfortunately, they counter this with an almost equally specious argument: Jordan is not Palestine because Jordan is tribal in culture and social organization; Jordanians are all of “bedouin stock” while Palestinians are basically urban in culture.

The authors describe Jordanian history and institutions in the framework of this hugely simplistic dichotomy. Loyalty to king and the efficiency of the armed forces and intelligence network of Jordan is all a function of “traditional” tribal attitudes and the proper manipulation of tribal ties. What will happen when the underlying tribal character and organization of the state has been eroded by “social change”? The authors are optimistic. King Hussein is in favor of “social change,” and if he is able to move forward at a “moderate pace” in the future as he has done in the past, Jordan will remain friendly and pro-West. To do so, he will need American support.

Although it is done all the time, usually in a more subtle manner, to write anything with academic pretensions for specific political purposes is to court disaster. The authors want to persuade us that Washington ought to support King Hussein. But to envelop this purpose with a murky discussion of tribalism and social change in Jordan adds nothing to our understanding. It is not necessary to deny the real cultural, economic and political contacts between Jordan and Palestine. The simple reason that Jordan is not Palestine is that neither the Jordanians nor the Palestinians consider it to be. Since World War I, their political and economic experiences have been radically different. The gratuitous opinion of a third and hostile party must surely be suspect.

Clinton Bailey, currently cited in the press as Israel’s preeminent “Shi‘a expert,” has been a student of Jordan’s relations with the Palestinians since he was a graduate student at Columbia University in the mid-1960s. Since 1973, he has been able to watch the development of these relations close at hand from his post at Tel Aviv University. One might have expected Jordan’s Palestinian Challenge, 1948-1983 to reflect a depth of knowledge and analysis commensurate with such a long-term interest. Unfortunately, this book, too, is of the quick sketch variety with an underlying political purpose, though Bailey’s is better argued and documented.

He puts a less obvious red herring in the way of clear-headed thinking about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. He believes “the solution to the Palestine question” is not “entirely dependent on relations with Israel.” For him, it is the struggle between the Hashemite monarchy and the forces of Palestinian nationalism that is paramount, because two thirds of all Palestinians have carried Jordanian citizenship since 1948. He does not mention in this context that one half of his Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship have been under Israeli military rule since 1967, or that between 35 and 50 percent of Palestinians worldwide live under Israeli rule, either in Israel or in the Occupied Territories, or that most would still be living in Palestine were it not for Israeli policies in the first place.

His book is a kaleidoscopic narrative of Jordan’s relations with Palestinians in general and with the Palestinian Liberation Organization in particular, with added colors and complicated patterns introduced by Nasser and Sadat, the Syrian Baath Party, and various American administrations. Bailey completely ignores the Israeli role in creating and perpetuating the clash of Palestinian and Jordanian interests, he relies mainly on newspapers for his source materials and eschews the work of other scholars — for example, Avi Plascov’s The Palestinian Refugees in Jordan, 1948-1957, Shaul Mishal’s West Bank, East Bank, Amnon Cohen’s Political Parties in the West Bank Under the Jordanian Regime and Helena Cobban’s The Palestine Liberation Organization.

The important issue is not the vexed nature of Jordanian-Palestinian relations but rather to account for how Jordan has managed to escape the political upheavals experienced by other Arab regimes since 1948. Here, Bailey falls lamentably short. He believes that King Hussein has managed to ride out clashing Jordanian and Palestinian interests because it was his unique “conviction that…Palestinians would one day feel that Jordan was their home, and that the Hashemites were a legitimate regime…. It was this vision and a determined sense of mission — as a descendant of the Muslim Prophet — that enabled the king to survive ever-lurking danger.” The king might be satisfied with this approach, but historians will find it lacking in explanatory value.

Bailey’s political message is that Palestinians should recognize that “Hussein might be as good a ruler as they can get.” Quite apart from the merit of this opinion, it ignores those Palestinians in the occupied territories. Bailey estimates that 125,000 Jews now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Since to force them to relocate might “ignite a civil war” in Israel, the half-million Palestinians there (one number never mentioned by the author) can only hope for a reduced homeland of “autonomous enclaves belonging to Jordan but separated from the East Bank, just as Berlin is separated from West Germany.” Whose fault is it that so little can now be gained by negotiations? The Palestinians, of course, who missed the “opportunities” of 1937 (the Peel partition plan), 1947 (the United Nations Partition), 1967 (?) and 1977 (participation in a possible Geneva Conference).

How to cite this article:

Mary C. Wilson "Books on Jordan," Middle East Report 136/137 ( ).
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