Since Jordan's population is about 2/3 Palestinian and there are 21 other Arab countries, why do the Palestinians insist on having a new state of their own?


Palestine's origins, and its identity as a distinct region within the broader Arab world go back thousands of years. Like most of the countries of the Arab world, Palestine's specific identity as a modern nation-state emerged in the context of colonial rule. In 1922 when British and French diplomats divided up the Arab portion of the defeated Ottoman Empire, Palestine's modern borders, along with those of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, were drawn. Some became independent, others remained under colonial or later Mandate authority. But in all of these newly-created countries, newly "national" identity emerged within the local populations.

For Palestinians, national identity was first linked to the land itself. It was their land, their grandparents and great-grandparents and on infinitum, had farmed this land, these olive trees. It was very specific. National dialects, customs, cultural norms, etc., all developed in particular forms. The notion of being transferred to another country, just because they speak the same language, even before the beginning of the modern Arab nation-states, was unacceptable. The equivalent would be expecting seventh- or eighth-generation Americans to accept forcible transfer to Australia, or Britain or even Canada, simply because they speak the same language. Perhaps a more exact comparison, taken from U.S. history, was the forced transfer of Native American tribes from one shrinking reservation to another, on the theory that they could live anywhere just as well as in their indigenous territory. The 4,000 deaths resulting from the Cherokees' forced removal from Georgia along the "Trail of Tears" in 1838-39 was only one such example.

In 1982 then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon developed a "Jordan is Palestine" plan designed to legitimate the idea of forcible transfer of Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza, perhaps out of Israel itself, into "their" alleged homeland in Jordan. The campaign never took off, and by 1988, at the height of the first intifada, Jordan's King Hussein announced he was severing the formal sponsorship of West Bank institutions to insure that there would be no confusion about the right of Palestinians to their own state in Palestine.

What the Palestinians want in the 21st century is not a "new" state, but recognition of the independence and sovereignty of what is left of their old nation, which was never allowed to become independent.