Why Was ‘Independent Palestine’
Never Created in 1948?

by Zvi Elpeleg

(published in The Jerusalem Quarterly, 50, Spring 1989)

The idea of an ‘independent Palestine’ began taking shape in the consciousness of the Arabs of Palestine in response to the political realities of the Middle East in the aftermath of the First World War. This period saw the Allies’ establishment of new national entities on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire – Iraq, Transjordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The League of Nations placed these new nations under British and French Mandatory rule. The Mandatory powers were to set the countries of the region on the road to independence. But Britain’s Mandate over Palestine differed from the others in that it included a commitment to help the Jews establish a national home there.

In the years following the war, the countries of the Middle East did indeed attain independence gradually, while the Zionist endeavor in Palestine gathered momentum. These two phenomena – the independence of the neighboring states and the Zionist endeavor – sharpened the group consciousness of the Arabs of Palestine and their awareness of a unique destiny as Palestinians. Henceforward, they aspired to free themselves of the limitations imposed on their independence by the British Mandate and win a standing equal to that of their brethren beyond the frontiers.

At first they tried to rid themselves of the British Mandate by claiming that Palestine was a part of Syria (‘Southern Syria’), referring to the Syria that had been ruled by a national government under King Faisal Ibn-Husayn during the years 1918-1920. But after the French army put an end to that government and imposed French Mandatory rule on Syria in July 1920, the Palestinians abandoned the idea of ‘Southern Syria’. The aim of their struggle was shifted to the establishment of an ‘independent Palestine’. The battle was waged by political means and resort to violence in turn as they tried to enlist the help of the Muslim and Arab world.

The struggle was led mainly by Hajj Amin al-Husayni. In 1922 he was elected president of the Higher Muslim Council (HMC), in addition to his post as Mufti of Jerusalem or (‘Grand Mufti’). He himself – and delegations in his name – immediately set out for Arab and Muslim countries to raise money and harness public opinion. The centerpiece of this effort was the restoration of the mosques on the Temple Mount, al-Haram al-Sharif. The restoration project was carried on during the Twenties with funds contributed by Muslims throughout the world. Many people in the neighboring countries became aware of the Palestinian problem in this way, and solidarity with the Palestinian struggle began to grow.

Until 1936, this solidarity did not exceed the bounds of material aid for the restoration project and a few statements of support. But the Palestinian rebellion of that year brought about a certain change: for the first time, Arab governments found reason to take up the Palestine question. At first, their intervention was generally in keeping with British interests, Britain wielding a certain influence over some of these governments. But the Palestinian struggle in Palestine won the support of widespread constituencies in the Arab world. This support gathered strength as time went on and had an influence on positions taken by the Arab regimes.

Until the end of the bloody events of the Thirties, the Palestinians’ major demands were refused by the British. But the Arab nations’ support and the influence of outside events brought about a change in British policy: MacDonald’s White Paper, containing severe limitations on the Zionist endeavor, was issued in May 1939.

The White Paper limited Jewish immigration to Palestine over the next five years (these were years of growing persecution of Jews in Europe) to 75,000 individuals, and made all subsequent Jewish immigration subject to Arab approval. Jewish purchase of lands was also severely limited, and the British government proclaimed its intent of granting independence to the country, with its Arab majority, within ten years.

The Jewish community in Palestine refused to accept the stipulations of the White Paper and set out to fight them. This struggle continued until after the Second World War – when the British government decided to abandon the Mandate and entrust the United Nations with the task of deciding the future of Palestine. When the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution dividing Palestine into two entities, an Arab state and a Jewish state, on November 29, 1947, the Jews were overjoyed and the Arabs were incensed.

The prevalent view is that a Palestinian state was not established in 1948 because of the war between the Arab states and Israel. A survey of Arab actions and fiascoes shows that despite their commitment to the Palestinian cause, the Arab states placed their own interests above it or interpreted it in keeping with their own interests. The Arab invasion of Palestine was not a means for achieving an independent Palestine, but rather the result of a lack of consensus on the part of the Arab states regarding such independence.

The Arab States’ Involvement in the Palestine Problem

The Arab states’ attitude towards the Palestinian issue slowly developed from a passive commitment in the Twenties and Thirties to an active involvement after the end of the Second World War. At first the only content this commitment was given was declarative. But in the Forties, when the Arab League was established, this commitment was formalized in the League’s articles of foundation. In one of the decisions of the Organizing Committee, which met in Alexandria on October 7, 1944, it was stated that ‘Palestine constitutes an important part of the Arab World, and the rights of the Arabs in Palestine cannot be touched without prejudice to peace and stability in the Arab World’.(1) The founders of the League committed themselves to support ‘the cause of the Arabs of Palestine in the attainment of their legitimate aspirations and defend of their just rights’.(2) In March 1945, the League’s Charter was signed. Its commitment to the Palestinian cause was unequivocal.

This commitment was intensified when the political future of Palestine came up for decision in the period following the Second World War. In response to the publication of the findings of the Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry in April 1946, the Arab rulers gathered in Inshas near Cairo to discuss options. Among other things, it was decided that ‘Palestine is Arab and cannot be separated from the rest of the Arab states, for it is the center of the great Arab nation and its destiny rests with that of the Arab states. Therefore we view the Palestinian problem as an inseparable part of the their basic national problems.’(3)

The Inshas Conference was the first in a series of steps taken by the Arab states to prevent the immigration of the remnants of European Jewry to Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish state. The Anglo-American Commission’s recommendation to enable the immediate immigration of 100,000 Jews was firmly rejected at the Inshas Conference, with the additional stipulation that confirmation of the Commission’s recommendations would be considered a hostile act directed against the League.

The League became further involved a month later at a meeting of its Council at Bludan (in Syria). Here it was decided that each of the League’s seven member-states would send an identical memorandum to the British and American governments demanding that they enter into negotiations with them on the Palestine issue. It was also decided that the Arab states would support the Palestinian struggle with money and arms. These decisions were made in open session. In closed session, the League issued two warnings should the struggle in Palestine intensify: that the Arab states ‘would be unable to prevent their peoples from coming to the aid of their brethrenwith arms and man-power’, and that they would look into the cancellation of concessions – principally oil leases – issued to Western companies.(4)

This laid the foundation for the League members’ intervention in the war that broke out in Palestine two years later. It also established the principle whereby authority for the determination of Palestine’s future was taken out of the hands of the Palestinians and placed in the hands of the League. Two decisions made this clear: to establish a committee, made up of representatives of the Arab states, to deal with the Palestinian problem, and to establish a Higher Arab Institute (HAI – to be distinguished from the Higher Arab Committee established by the Palestinians themselves in April 1936 and outlawed by the British in October 1937). In this fashion, the League members assumed patronage of the Palestinian cause.

In accordance with the demand made by the League members at Bludan, Britain invited the Arab states to London for discussions of the Palestinian problem. Jewish Agency representatives were also invited to the conferences held in September 1946 and in January 1947. There the Arabs rejected the Morrison-Grady Plan to divide Palestine into four cantons, one of them Jewish, a plan submitted in the name of the British government.(5) The Arabs submitted a plan of their own, whose principle clause was the establishment of political institutions with an Arab majority in an independent Palestinian state. The Jews in this state were to enjoy equal civil rights, freedom of religious observances and cultural autonomy.(6)

The London conference was a failure. The Arabs and the Jews, of course, were far from accepting any of the proposals made there, and the British government, which had been leaning towards the Arabs before the war, now found itself under pressure from the United States and world opinion. With the images of the Holocaust of European Jewry vividly in mind, these factors called for an opening of Palestine’s gates to Jewish immigration. After the failure of the conference Mr. Bevin announced, on February 14th, that the Mandate was to be referred to the UN by the British government, without the latter recommending any particular solution. He repeated the announcement to the House of Commons on February 18th.(7)

The UN General Assembly, in session from April 28 to May 16, 1947, decided to establish a commission of inquiry to look into the matter and recommend a solution. The UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) published its report at the end of August and recommended the partition of Palestine into two states – Arab and Jewish.

The Arab League’s Political Committee met to discuss the findings of the UN Committee. This session was held at Sofar (in Lebanon) in September 1947, upon the initiative of Iraq’s Prime Minister, Salah Jaaber. The same themes recurred as in previous sessions: the threat of sanctions against Britain and the United States, assistance for the Arabs of Palestine, and the threat of military intervention.(8)

The Arab camp was aware of the gathering support for the idea of partition and stepped up its efforts to prevent or at least delay implementation of this idea. As part of these efforts, we may mention the proposal submitted by the HAI to the UN Special (Ah hoc) Committee, calling for the establishment of a ‘democratic Palestinian state’.(9) Years later, the PLO was to use this proposal as the basis for its slogan – with the addition of the word ‘secular’. The proposal had no influence on events. At the last moment, the Arabs states tried to delay the General-Assembly decision on partition by means of a proposal, brought forward on November 29, 1947 by Camille Chamoun in the name of the Arab delegations to the Assembly, calling for the establishment of a federated state which was to include an Arab canton and a Jewish canton. Most UN members saw this as a trick meant to delay the Assembly’s decision. The proposal was rejected and the Assembly voted for partition that very day.

The Jews in Palestine and the Diaspora were overjoyed and heartened by this decision, while the Arab camp responded with outbursts of rage and desperation. Arab efforts to prevent the decision had failed. Now the Arab states used all th means at their disposal to dissuade the UN from carrying it out.

But the only thing the Arabs states could agree among themselves was to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state; in regard to all other issues, such as the level of intervention should the Jewish state be established, their discord continued and intensified. Generally speaking, three factors comprised the Arab political arena: the Palestinian camp, let by Hajj Amin al-Husayni, King Abdallah of Transjordan, and the non-Hashemite Arab camp. Hajj Amin and Abdallah stood on opposite sides with utterly conflicting demands, while the positions of the other League members vacillated between these two poles in accordance with the circumstances and interests of each.

The Palestinian Camp

The Palestinian camp was powerless from the beginning and, as previously stated, found it difficult to meet the Zionist challenge. Its situation deteriorated the closer the future of Palestine came to being decided during the Forties. Here, too, as among the Arab states, there was agreement on the rejection of the establishment of a Jewish state but on little else. This refers primarily to the Palestinian opposition’s rejection of Hajj Amin’s leadership and its pro-Abdallah orientation as a result of it.

In retrospect, Hajj Amin figures as a leader who for several decades shaped the idea of a nationalist Arab-Palestinian movement and established the organizational frameworks meant to further this idea. It is doubtful whether anyone else would have succeeded in holding on to reins of power for so long (about thirty years) in his place. He is to be credited with Arab and Muslin solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. He succeeded in impressing upon the mass of Arabs and Muslims the alleged danger posed by the Jews to the shrines of Islam in Jerusalem; just as he succeeded in indoctrinating millions of Arabs in the region with the fear of Israel’s expansion at the expense of the other Arab states. He was also one of the few – if not the only – Palestinian leaders who obtained no material benefit from his position. His goal was an independent Palestine and he labored indefatigably to achieve it. Everything else – his pan-Arab stance, his pan-Islamic stance, the imaginary danger of Zionist expansionism – was just a means to accomplish this end.

But if these attributes of his provided the Palestinians with a leader who could organize and lead their struggle against the British and the Zionists, his other traits prevented the Palestinians from ever seeing that struggle bear fruit and eventually led them – almost inevitably – to the ‘Palestinian Holocaust’ (Nacbat Falastin) in 1948. In the first place, this was because he always refrained from cooperating with his compatriots in the Palestinian leadership, thus alienating his rivals on a personal basis; secondly, because he was unable to compromise with Palestinians who disagreed with him, hounding them and even resorting to assassination.(10) In this regard, we might mention a singular petition addressed to Hajj Amin in 1938 by Palestinian intellectuals who were deeply disturbed by the bloodshed in Palestinian circles. They sent one of their number – Dr. Omar al-Khalil – to Hajj Amin in Lebanon to persuade him to issue a proclamation denouncing ‘the murder of Arabs by Arabs’, but he refused to do so;(11) and thirdly, he was an extremist and a fanatic by nature, qualities that prevented him from being flexible when it might have helped the Palestinian cause. His attitude throughout his political career can be summarized by ‘all or nothing’, and in this way he left his fellow countrymen nothing – or even worse than nothing.

But in the period between his return from France (where he found asylum after Germany’s defeat) to the Middle East in 1946 until the Arab invasion of Palestine in 1948, he conducted an obstinate struggle for Palestinian independence. This struggle was related to his fight against the partition plan and the establishment of a Jewish state, but there were situations (especially in view of Abdallah’s known intentions) in which he was ready to settle in exchange for the establishment of some sort of a Palestinian national entity, or even for a Palestinian administration to be responsible only for conducting daily life in Palestine’s Arab areas. These attempts were undermined by the Arab League, even though all the Arab states were formally committed to the Palestinian cause; as stated earlier, the League’s Charter explicitly recognized this commitment.

The Palestinian leadership was aware of the fact that King Abdallah had sought to enlarge his kingdom ever since the beginning of his reign in Transjordan. In the past, this ambition had no operational significance, but now the Palestinian leaders were horrified at his overt preparations for annexation. Hajj Amin tried to stymie Abdallah’s efforts, and suggested, back in 1947, establishing a Palestinian government, but met with resistance on the part of the League.(12) For the same reason (fear of Aballah’s territorial aims), Hajj Amin was opposed to the invasion of Palestine by the Arab armies – an idea discussed by the League at its sessions in Bludan (June 1946) and Alia (October 1947). It was clear to all that Abdallah favored an invasion (and in this he was supported by Iraq) in order to prevent Hajj Amin and the Palestinian leadership from establishing independent Palestinian institutions prior to or after the pending British withdrawal. Of course, another reason for Abdallah’s advocacy of an invasion was his wish to gain control over as much territory as possible west of the Jordan River.

Despite their threats of military intervention in support of the Palestinians, the Arab states hoped that threats alone would suffice to prevent implementation of the partition plan and that they would not be forced to carry them out. Hajj Amin urged these states not to invade Palestine, and even submitted a memorandum to this effect to the leaders of the Arab states when the met in Cairo shortly after the General Assembly decision in favor of partition.(13)

The Palestinians were greatly dependent on the League. Hajj Amin wanted its help, but he wanted to pay the smallest possible price for it – in terms of relinquishing Palestinian sovereignty over the Palestinian problem. In this he failed; as time went on, the Palestinians were forced to resign themselves to a position of waning influence on matters critical to their future. Hajj Amin was not even invited to the League meeting in Alia, where the Palestinian problem was discussed. He showed up anyway, and imposed his presence on the meeting but everything decided at Alia was contrary to his wishes. He demanded that either he or Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni be appointed commander of the Salvation Army. But despite his objections and protests, the post was given to Fawzi al-Qawuqji. He also demanded that the Arab states agree to the establishment of a Palestinian government in exile. As was to be expected, this demand was opposed by the Hashmite states and rejected out of hand by the League.(14)

Faced with the realities of the situation, the HAI turned to the formation of an army that would be under its control. The units established were called the ‘Holy War’ (al-Jihad al-Muqaddas). Hajj Amin appointed Abd al-Quadir al-Husayni to command them. This was a direct challenge to the League’s intention of dispossessing the Palestinian leadership of all authority in the conduct of their struggle. Hajj Amin also had a personal stake in the matter: he viewed Fawzi al-Qawuqji’s appointment as an affront to his honor. He went so far as to claim that Qawuqji was an agent in the pay of the British and Abdallah. But, above all, he was motivated by the fear that Abdallah would annex the territories designated by the UN resolution for the Palestinian Arabs and by this unilateral act deprive them of any chance of attaining independence in the future.

The HAI had another opportunity to forestall Abadallah’s intentions at a meeting of the League in Cairo in February 1948. At this meeting, Jordan exerted increasing pressure on the other Arab states to decide in favor of an invasion of Palestine. There was little time left before the British were due to withdraw, and Hajj Amin wished to stake his claim before it was too late. He presented several demands to the League, including the following: the establishment of a provisional Palestinian government to assume authority either prior to or at the time of the British withdrawal; the appointment of a representative on behalf of the HAI to the League’s General Command for Palestinian Affairs; the assumption of regional administration by the ‘national committees’ in the various towns; the exaction of a loan by the League on behalf of the HAI to support the continuations of the Palestinian struggle and to provide aid for Palestinian casualties.(15) The Arab League rejected Hajj Amin’s and the HAI’s demands out of hand.

The Palestinian Jihad units intensified their hostile actions against the Jewish community at the time. They were especially successful in disrupting traffic along the country’s roads. Matters deteriorated to such an extent that on March 19, 1948, the United States representative to the UN Security Council suggested postponing implementation of the partition plan. Under these circumstances, it is no wonder that the Palestinian leadership believed that with some help forthcoming from the League they could assume control of the country.

But at the same time it became clear that Abdallah was not to be diverted from his intentions, and that his adversaries in the League were powerless to stop him. In view of this situation, the HAI made efforts to assert its independence. For instance, when the stream of refugees from Palestine to neighboring countries began to grow, Hajj Amin addressed a demand to the Arab governments to ‘instruct your consuls in Palestine to help us in this matter’,(16) [i.e., refusal of entry papers to the Arab states].

But all the steps taken by the HAI and all of Hajj Amin’s efforts to prevent of delay Abdallah’s territorial expansion in the direction of Palestine came to naught. Hajj Amin’s situation was similar to that of the boy trying to plug the dike with his finger.

The Hashemite Camp

Abdallah’s opposition to the idea of an ‘independent Palestine’ stemmed from its incompatibility with his ambition of uniting Greater Syria under his crown. His dream of uniting the historical realm of Syria, like the Fertile Crescent plan of the Hashemite regime in Iraq, had its origin in the plans of the family patriarch – Husayn Ibn-Ali – to establish a great Arab kingdom following the First World War.

Abdallah viewed Britain’s decision to terminate the Palestine Mandate as a history opportunity to being enlarging his Kingdom. Hajj Amin stood in his way and he was obliged to deal with him. But Abdallah held all the cards: he enjoyed the support of the regime in Iraq (not only was Iraq ruled by members of his own family, but the Iraqi regime also despised Hajj Amin for his part in the pro-Nazi insurrection by Rashid Ali al-Qaylani in the spring of 1941); his army was the best-trained Arab force and some of its units had been station in Palestine since the Second World War; his country had the longest border with Palestine – a fact the other Arab states were forced to acknowledge; Jordan and Iraq were two of the League’s seven members and they could have caused it to be disbanded at any time.

Another factor which augmented Abdallah’s power over Hajj Amin was the anti-Husayni opposition in the Palestinian camp. Much of this opposition had taken a pro-Jordan tilt since long before; now Abdallah made efforts to strengthen both it and the neutral elements in the Palestinian camp. Even before the vote for partition, Abdallah had visited Jerusalem accompanied by his songs and his Prime Minister with the declared intention of canvassing support for his plans in Palestine.(17) The closer the date of the British withdrawal drew, the more intensive the campaigning among the Palestinians became. Beyond strengthening his ties with the leaders of the opposition, Abdallah empties out the local institutions which recognized HAI control. The Jordanian governors also issued instructions forbidding the national committees in the towns from discharging their duties, while the populace was required to obey only the Jordanian army.(18)

Of course, Abdallah’s usurpation would have encountered many difficulties if Hajj Amin had been in the country. But Hajj Amin was out of the country in the period prior to the British withdrawal and the invasion of the Arab armies, and for many months following these events. The British refused him entry before their withdrawal, and later Abdallah also pressured Egypt and Syria into barring him from crossing the border into Palestine.(19)

The means at Abdallah’s disposal, both as regards the League and the Palestinian camp, sufficed to prevent Hajj Amin and the HAI from activating the national institutions that had already existed within the local frameworks. But in order to implement his plan for annexation he needed physical control of the Arab areas of Palestine. To this end, he pursued a policy of military intervention in Palestine immediately following the British withdrawal.

Nominally, the invasion was meant to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state and to aid the Palestinians in establishing theirs. In fact, Jordan’s and Iraq’s pressure on the other Arab states to mount the invasion was merely intended to obtain pan-Arab legitimacy for the Hashemite armies’ invasion. Countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia were hesitant; but when they realized that Abdallah meant to invade Palestine with or without his fellow League-members (and it seems that he preferred to invade without them), the League decided that the armies of its seven member-states would invade Palestine on the day of the termination of the British Mandate. Egypt’s decision was particularly significant, and its leaders argued for and against the invasion until the very last moment.(20)

Immediately after the invasion, the Arab Legion established Jordanian military government in the territories it captured. Abdallah appointed Ibrahim Hashem to head the military administration and Ahmed Hilmi Abd al-Baqi – one of Hajj Amin’s opponents in the Palestinian camp – as governor of Jerusalem.(21) On May 24, 1948, Abdallah issued a proclamation confirming the validity of the British Mandatory laws ‘as long as they don’t conflict with Jordanian laws and defense regulations’.(22)

In the days preceding the invasion, the situation of the irregular units (the Salvation Army and the ‘Holy War’) deteriorated as the Haganah and the other Jewish military organizations gained the upper hand in the fighting. For this reason the invasion of the Arab armies planted hope in the hearts of the Palestinians. Abdallah, who had demanded and been given overall command of the invading armies by the League, symbolized this hope. The title of General Commander carried no real authority over units other than the Jordanian army, but the appointment had its psychological effect, and Abdallah exploited it to the full to further his control over Palestinian territory.

Hajj Amin, who was forced to stay in Cairo, nevertheless tried to exert his authority as President of the HAI from there; he sent instructions to the national committees and even purportedly appointed Palestinian administrators to government departments in place of the departing British administrators. The HAI even issued an edict from Cairo proclaiming a state of emergency in the entire country.(23) In response, Abdallah wrote to Hajj Amin requesting that he refrain from ‘announcements that cause confusion’, and took this opportunity to thank him for his past services.(24) In this way, Abdallah sought to make it clear that Hajj Amin’s services would no longer be required, and to exhibit his absolute mastery over Palestinian affairs. Indeed, on Decmber 20, 1948, Abdallah announced Shaykh Husam al-Din Jarallah as Mufti of Jerusalem instead of Hajj Amin. (Earlier, in 1921, Shaykh Husam al-din Jarallah had been forced to renounce his candidacy for the post of Mufti of Jerusalem in order to clear the way for the British High Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel, to nominate to the post Hajj Amin, who had not been elected as one of the three candidates for the office; Hajj Amin won the fourth place.) At the end of the year, Abdallah also appointed the Shaykh President of the Higher Muslim Council (Hajj Amin had been removed from this post by the British authorities in 1937).(25)

The Arab States

The struggle between Abdallah and Hajj Amin took place concurrently on two separate fronts: in the Arab areas of Palestine and in the Arab League’s institutions. Abdallah had a distinct advantage on both fronts; his army was in control of most of the Arab areas and his standing in the League grew as the war progressed. The only things left to Hajj Amin were the Palestinians’ dream – necessarily latent under the circumstances – of independence, support of the Palestinian cause among widespread constituencies in the Arab countries, and especially the Arab leaders’ fear of the aggrandizement of their rival Abdallah.

Within the League, concern over Abdallah’s plans for annexation grew; but in the first few weeks after the invasion, the Arab states were still hoping that his power could be limited by pressure. The dilemma Abdallah’s opponents faced was twofold: they were afraid that too much pressure might make him withdraw the Jordanian army from the battle and even come to terms with the Jews; and, that if left unimpeded, he would succeed in enlarging his Kingdom and thus increase his power vis-à-vis the other Arab rulers.(26)

Officially, Abduallah was committed to the Arab consensus that Palestine’s political future should be determined after the Arab armies had conquered it, but the fact of the matter pointed to his disregard for this commitment. During the first few weeks of the war, Abdallah’s opponents were still hoping that the conquest of Palestinian territory by non-Hashemite army units wouldn’t be required to prevent him from achieving his aims. But the publication of the Bernadotte plan awaked anxieties that they might miss the boat.

Count Folke Bernadotte had been appointed to mediate the conflict in Palestine by the UN Security Council. On July 4, 1948, he issued a plan which had evidently been put together in concert with the British government and was tailored to Abdallah’s measure. Its main features were the renunciation of the establishment of a separate Arab state as stipulated by the UN resolution and the annexation of areas originally designated for the Palestine Arabs – with certain modifications – to the Kingdom of Jordan. The Negev, which the original plan had given to the Jewish state, was to be included in the Great Hashemite Kingdom.

This plan enraged both the Jews (the Count paid for it with his life, and his murder was ascribed to the Stern Group) and the Arabs. The Arab League’s Political Committee utterly rejected it. But Abdallah demanded that the plan be accepted and that the Committee reconvene for this purpose. Egypt adamantly refused and Abdallah once again threatened to remove his army from the conflict.(27)

His threat had no effect. It seems that the Bernadotte plan surprised the Arab rulers into action; upon Egypt’s initiative, the League decided to establish an ‘independent Palestinian administration’. The League’s General Secretary, Azzam Pasha, made the decision public on July 10, 1948.(28) Despite Abdallah’s protests that administration should remain in the hands of the army (meaning the Jordanian army) as long as the war continued, the League went on with its preparations: evidently in concert with the HAI it created nine departments for self-administration. Most of the department heads were from the Husayni camp, with only few pro-Hashemite leaders, such as the general manager of Bank al-Umma, and King Abdallah’s governor of Jerusalem, Ahmed Hilmi Abd al-Baqi, who was appointed head of the Palestinian administration.

All-Palestine Government

The League’s decision to establish a Palestinian administration fell short of Hajj Amin’s demands for the establishment of a government. The League acted moderately to avoid putting undue strain on relations with Abdallah, but he, nevertheless, understood that the decision was meant to prevent his annexation of Palestinian territory. After laboring to take responsibility for the Palestinian problem out of the hands of the Palestinian leadership, Abdallah now found himself faced with an attempt by his opponents in the League to return that responsibility into their hands.

The League’s offices were in Cairo, as were Hajj Amin and his colleagues in the Palestinian leadership. They had won a victory over Abdallah within the framework of the League. He still had the advantage in the field: his officers were in control of most of the Palestinian population. He exploited this to the full to undermine the legitimacy of the League’s decision to establish an autonomous administration. The media under his control began a propaganda campaign to persuade the Palestinians that they were being left out of the process of deciding their own future.(29) Abdallah, who had assumed authority by virtue of the power he wielded, now cast doubt on the right of the League and the HAI to make decisions regarding Palestinian affairs without consulting the Palestinians under his army’s control. It was clear that he was using the Palestinians themselves to abrogate the League’s decision.

Hajj Amin had long been demanding the establishment of a Palestinian government, but Abdallah had been opposed to it and all efforts to persuade him had failed. In July, the Political Committee decided to establish an autonomous administration rather than a government. They were still hesitant, and perhaps hoped this would moderate Abdallah’s policy of territorial expansion. But when it became clear that he meant to pursue his aims, the Political Committee, in the middle of September 1948, decided to change the institution’s name from the ‘Palestinian Autonomous Administration’ to the ‘All Palestine Government’ (APG). Since the Jordanian army was in control of most of the Palestinian territory, the APG was set to convene in Gaza.(30) The term ‘All Palestine’ was coined to forestall any possible criticism by Abdallah that the establishment of a government meant acceptance of the partition plan.

On September 22nd, the HAI issued proclamation which constituted a real step towards the formation of a Palestinian government. It stated that on the basis of the League’s decision, the Palestinians were entitled to decide their own fate; that ‘all of Palestine – within the borders extant at the termination of the British Mandate’ was to be an ‘independent state’.(31)

It seemed that a Palestinian government was actually being established despite the opposition. But even at this late date, after the decisions had been made public, the League’s general secretary tried to placate the angry King with vague and noncommittal pronouncements. He found it expedient to claim that the APG had nothing to do with Hajj Amin (even though he had participated in the preparation for the establishment of the APG with Ahmed Hilmi); he termed this government merely ‘a temporary measure for the present situation’.(32) But Abdallah wasn’t misled by these assurances and the other Arab leaders’ hesitation didn’t escape him. He decided to mount staunch opposition to the implementation of the Political Committee’s decision to establish the APG. He gave two reasons for his position: one, that ‘the Transjordanian army currently fighting in Palestine would not agree to anybody interfering with military authorities there’; two, that the establishment of the APG was ‘against the wishes of the Arabs of Palestine’.(33)

This problem of representation brought up by Abdallah became the bone of contention between the Palestinian and Hashemite camps. Upon the initiative of the HAI, it was decided to hold a meeting in Gaza of Palestinian representatives from all parts of the country – in the shape of a national council to provide public support for the APG and its platform.

Abdallah’s opponents in the League, led by Egypt, didn’t try to prevent the gathering of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) in Gaza. Such an anti-Hashemite demonstration was in keeping with Egyptian and Saudi policy. But under the circumstances – the war being at its height and Abdallah still threatening to conclude a separate agreement with nascent Israel – the Egyptians wanted to prevent a total rupture of relations with the King. For this reason they urged Hajj Amin to stay in Cairo and forgo the gathering of the national council in Gaza.

Though the Egyptian authorities denied him permission, Hajj Amin was determined to take his place at the head of this historic gathering – the declaration of independence and the establishment of a Palestinian government. In his memoirs he described in detail how he slipped across the border on July 27, 1948, with the help of the ‘Free Officers’ (who were to seize power in Egypt in 1952) and arrived in Gaza the following day.(34) The Palestinians in Gaza gave him an enthusiastic welcome. On the other ahdn, the Egyptian military authorities’ reception was cool, at least by appearance. They refrained from allotting the council a venue for their gathering. The members of the APG, who had also arrived from Cairo, were forced to take rooms in a hotel, while Hajj Amin himself stayed at the home of Hajj Musa al-Surani, chairman of the Gaza branch of Higher Muslim Council.(35)

The Palestinian National Council convened on October 1, 1948, at the al-Fallah al-Islamiyah School, a derelict building that belonged to the Palestinian Muslim Waqf. Nevertheless the participants (75-80 municipal and village leaders had arrived out of the 150 invited, because of the Jordanian and Iraqi armies’ refusal to permit delegates who resided in areas under their control to leave) were in a celebratory mood of historic achievement. Hajj Amin was elected President of the National Council as well as President of the Higher Council – a sort of presidential institution to stand above both the APG and PNC, the executive arm and the legislative arm, respectively.(36) The PNC continued in session through October 2-3, and came to an end with a number of decisions, including the adoption of the Sharifian flag of 1916, the choice of Jerusalem as a capital, general mobilization, and more. In addition, a bill establishing the government and the declaration of independence were adopted and signed by all the delegates.(37)

Abdallah’s Response

Abdallah decided to answer the challenge posed by the Gaza gathering in kind. His agents were instructed to hold local caucuses for the purpose of both undermining the legitimacy of the PNC in Gaza and legitimizing the process of annexation by himself.

On October 1st, the very same day the PNC’s deliberations began in Gaza, a ‘Palestinian Congress’ was convened in Amman. Mayors, tribal leaders and Palestinian notables were invited to the Congress. Also present was Dhuqan al-Husayn, the Jordanian military governor. The chairman of the Congress was Sulayman Taji al-Farouqi of Ramle, and Ajjaj Nuwyhed was elected secretary. After a series of speeches, a number of resolutions were adopted; the establishment of the APG in Gaza was ruled contrary to the wishes and interests of the Palestinians; Transjordan and Palestine were termed a single territorial entity that must remain a single political entity. It was also decided that a Palestinian government be formed only after the liberation of Palestine, and then in a democratic fashion.(38)

Another gathering was held on October 18th in Ramallah, upon the initiative of a group called the Hashemite Propaganda Association. The participants – local Palestinian notables – discussed the same issues brought up in Amman. The resolutions adopted were similar; King Abdallah was to be seen as the ‘savior of Palestine’, he was to be ‘entrusted with the solution of the problem, by war or by peace’ (this being a hint to Abdallah’s opponents in the League that the option of a separate peace with Israel was yet viable). The gathering also called on Palestinian youth to enlist in the Jordanian army.(39)

Abdallah was willing to use less scrupulous methods in order to undermine the attempted establishment of a Palestinian government. Jamal al-Husayni, the intended APG Foreign Minister, set out for Palestinian concentrations outside the Gaza Strip to ensure maximum representation from these regions to the PNC in Gaza. Jordanian army authorities arrested him and prevented him from attending the gathering himself.(40)

The third such gathering was held in Jericho on December 1, 1948. In retrospect, the previous congresses seem merely a prelude to the Jericho Congress. It was an especially large gathering, with hundreds of representatives from all sectors of the Palestinian population, attended by religious leaders, the Jordanian military governors and many reporters. Muhammad Ali al-Ja’bari of Hebron was elected President of the Jericho Congress.(41) In his speech, he railed against the establishment of the APG in Gaza and called on the King to annex Palestine to his Kingdom. He termed it a first step towards the unification of the Arab states. Finally he proposed that Abdallah be entrusted with the task of solving the Palestinian problem.(42) The resolutions adopted were in the spirit of the Presidents speech and included an other of allegiance (bai’a) to Abdallah as King of Palestine.(43)

The defeat of all the Arab armies, except Jordan’s, in the war was already apparent at the time of the Jericho Congress. This is the reason for the feeling of helplessness which drove the Palestinian representatives at Jericho to seek refuge and deliverance from the King. But coercion was used as well; Jordanian military governors made sure that all the Palestinian representatives invited did attend. The atmosphere of coercion was most evident after the delegates to the Jericho Congress had dispersed. Abdallah heard a Radio Ramallah broadcast announcing that the decision to entrust him with the Palestinian problem was made conditional upon a commitment on his part to liberate all of Palestine. The King’s ire was raised and the drafters of the resolutions were forced to change them the day after the closing of the Congress. After being amended, the resolutions included a call on Abdallah to solve the Palestinian problem as he saw fit.(44) Only then did a delegation set out for the King’s Palace at Shuna and presented him with the resolutions of the Congress. The Jordanian government affirmed these resolutions at a special session.(45)

The Arab World’s Response

The Arab world responded with a wave of protests at Abdallah’s unilateral annexation. The League’s General Secretary issued a condemnation, Arab radio stations expressed disapproval, and the leaders of the Ulama in Egypt gathered to refute in the name of religion Jordan’s action.(46) But the Arab rulers, especially Egypt’s, were mainly incensed with Hajj Amin al-Husayni.

It seems that the Hashemites’ opponents, in making the Leage’s decision to establish the APG had meant to discourage Abdallah rather than satisfy Palestinian national aspirations. A special effort had therefore been made to keep a low profile in everything concerning the APG. Hajj Amin had brother the ranks with his secret arrival in Gaza. In his memoirs, he himself describes how the Egyptian Prime Minister sent the commander of the Egyptian frontier army to take him back to Cairo – several days after his arrival in Gaza – and how he was returned by force when he refused.(47)

Meanwhile, the situation of the Egyptian forces which had invaded Palestine was getting worse. When the Israel Defense Forces began its assault (‘Operation Yoav’) on the Egyptian army in the Negev,(48) the members of the APG fled to Cairo. For two weeks following the establishment of the APG, the Arab states wavered over recognizing it. In the middle of October these states (with the exception of Jordan but including Iraq) recognized the APG.(49)

While it remained in Gaza, the APG was involved in enlisting units for the Palestinian ‘Holy War’. The APG’s Prime Minister, Ahmed Hilmi, proclaimed that this force would be one of the fighting Arab armies. He also announced the issuance of Palestinian passports and the formation of a delegation to represent the APG at the UN. About 14,000 passports were issued within a short time, mostly to notables and Palestinian businessmen from the Gaza Strip.(50) All felt that a Palestinian state had come into being.

But the excitement was quick to die down as soon as the APG ministers fled from Gaza and the invading Egyptian army suffered defeat. In the resulting situation, Abdallah increased pressure on the Arab states to disavow their recognition of the APG. There was much confusion ni the League and among APG leaders. According to one source, things came to such a pass that Jamal al-Husayni, the APG Foreign Minister, announced, only a few days after the Arab states had recognized his government, that ‘the Palestinian government si willing to transfer its territory to Transjordan if Abdallah will cooperate with the other Arab states in ridding Palestine of the Zionists’.(51) Another source relates that Abdallah’s opponents in the League were now willing to placate him in any possible way and that the League’s General Secretary, Abd al-Raham Azzam, requested the Arab states to sever relations with the APG.(52)

Abdallah was indeed placated. In a speech before the Jordanian Parliament on November 1st, he stated that there were ‘no disagreements among the Arab states’, and that he wasn’t opposed to the establishment of the APG in principle, ‘but that its timing was inappropriate.(53)

After the 1948 war, the Arab states were busy rebuilding the ruins and stabilizing the regimes shaken by the war. The Rhodes Accords were signed in the first half of 1949, formalizing the relations between Israel and the Arab states. In April 1950, Abdallah held elections to the Jordanian Parliament on both sides of the Jordan, despite the League’s protests. When the new Parliament was convened, Abdallah presented his Crown Address before it and was acclaimed ruler of both banks of the Jordan.(54) From now on, the name Palestine was to be abandoned and the Palestinian territories west of the Jordan were to be known as the ‘West Bank of the Jordanian Hashemite Kingdom’.

The Arab League’s Political Committee tried to persuade Abdallah to abstain from annexation, threatening to impose sanctions.(55) This, of course, had no effect. After a while, the League members found a way out of the impasse. They adopted an Iraqi-Lebanese proposal that Jordan be considered the ‘trustee of Palestine’.(56)

During the years 1946-1948, the political future of Palestine was being determined. The war between the young State of Israel and the Arab armies was preceded by a struggle between the Palestinians, who aspired to independence, and Abdallah, who wanted to enlarge his Kingdom at their expense. The decision lay in the hands of the non-Hashemite states of the Arab League.

The opposition of these countries’ rulers to Abdallah’s policy of territorial expansion stemmed from the internal power struggle within the Arab world. This mainly, and not their commitment to the Palestinian cause, was the reason why the Palestinians were accorded a certain measure of support by the League.

But Abdallah’s threat of arriving at a separate accommodation with the Jews and the power he had to disband the League were working against the Palestinians. The integrity of the League was the crucial factor in the Arab states’ calculations, and a national interest of prime importance for Egypt, which stood at the head of the League.

Hajj Amin’s demands conflicted with the interests of Egypt and other Arab states. For this reason, the League took responsibility for the Palestinian problem out of the Palestinian’s hands and into its own. For the same reason, the Arab states yielded to Abdallah’s wishes and actually abandoned the idea of the Palestinian government that they themselves had decided to establish.

In this way, the curtain came down on the Palestinians’ thirty-year struggle for independence; thus began the bloody relationship between Israel – the manifestation of the Jews’ aspirations for independence – and the Palestinians, whose independence had been denied by the Arab states.


  1. Muhammad Khalil, The Arab States and the Arab League, Vol. II (Beirut, 1962), pp. 55-56; Ahmed M. Gomaa, The Foundation of the League of Arab States (London, 1977), p. 274.
  2. Michael Asaph, the History of the Arab Awakening in Palestine and the Arabs Flight (Tel Aviv, 1970), p. 167 (in Hebrew).
  3. Report, Iraqi Parliamentary Commission if Inquiry, translated from the Arab into Hebrew by S. Segev (Tel Aviv, 1954), p. 38 (not available in English).
  4. Iraqi Commission of Inquiry, pp. 40-42, 45
  5. Joseph Amitai, "The Arab States and the Arab-Israeli War, 1945-1948′, Middle East Research Studies, No. 5 (Haifa University, 1976), p. 18 (in Hebrew).
  6. Asher Goren, The Arab League (Tel Aviv, 1954), pp. 132-134 (in Hebrew); Amitai, op. cit., p. 19; see also ‘Memorandum by his Majesty’s Government to the London Conference’, in Khalil, op. cit., pp. 522-524.
  7. Christopher Sykes, Cross Roads to Israel, London (Collins) 1965, p. 377; David Kimche, Both Sides of the Hill (London, 1960), p. 23.
  8. For details of the discussions in Sofar, see Iraqi Commission of Inquiry, pp. 49-52.
  9. Khalil, op. cit., pp. 531-532.
  10. Martin Kramer, Islam Assembled: The Advent of the Muslim Congress (New York, 1986), p. 127. See also the memoirs of Akram Zuaitar in: Bayan Nuwihad al-Hout, al-Qiyadat w’al Muasat al-Siyassia fi Falastin, 1917-1948 (Second edition, Acre, 1984), pp. 244-245.
  11. Reported by Hanna Asfour, a member of that group of intellectuals – al-Hout, op. cit., p. 403.
  12. Goren, op. cit., p. 199; see also Joseph Nevo, Abdallah and the Arabs of Palestine (Tel-Aviv, 1975), p. 45 (in Hebrew).
  13. Kimche, op. cit., p. 80; see also al-Hout, op. cit., pp. 580-583.
  14. Arefal al-Aref, al-Nacba, 1 (Beirut [n.d.]), p. 15.
  15. Iraqi Commission of Inquiry, pp. 57-59; Amitai, op. cit., pp. 44-46.
  16. Muhammad Amin al-Husayni, Haqaiq an Qaddiyat Falastin (3rd edition, Cairo, 1957), p. 72; Khalil, op. cit., pp. 533-544.
  17. Falastin, October 23, 1947; Nevo, op. cit., p. 48.
  18. On the conflict between Abdallah and Hajj Amin in this period, see Ha’aretz, Davar, May 18, 22, 1948.
  19. Some eight years later Hajj Amin alleged that the British had influenced the Arab regimes to bar him from Palestine. See Amin al-Husayni, op. cit., p. 82.
  20. On the debate among the Egyptian leadership on the eve of the invasion, see al-Tali’a (Cairo), March 1975, pp. 134-145.
  21. Abdallah al-Tal, Memoirs; Nevo, op. cit., pp. 87-89.
  22. Azziz Shehadah, ‘Jordanian law on the West Bank’, The New Middle East, 1970, p. 166, (in Hebrew).
  23. Davar, Haaretz, May 25, 1948.
  24. Nevo, op. cit., p. 87.
  25. The Middle East Journal, III, 1949, p. 195.
  26. According to his rivals, Abdallah intended to rule – with Israel’s agreement – over all the territories designated for the Palestinian state; see Aref al-Aref, op. cit., p. 663.
  27. Al-Hamishmar, July 11, 1948; Kimche, op. cit., pp. 221-222.
  28. Khalil, op. cit., pp. 566-568.
  29. Summary of Arabic Broadcasts – Radio Ramallah, July 26, 1948; Ha’aretz, August 3, 1948; Nevo, op. cit., p 99.
  30. Abdallah al-Tal, op. cit., pp. 260-261.
  31. Davar, Ha’aretz, al-Ahram, September 26, 1948; Nevo, op. cit., pp. 99.
  32. Muhammad Nimar al-Hawari, Sir al-Nacba (1955), p. 273; Davar, ibid.
  33. Ha’aretz, September 29, 1948; see also Ahmad Faraj Taiya, Safahaat Mutawiya an Falastin (n.p., n.d.), pp. 150-151.
  34. Amin al-Husayni, op. cit., pp. 84.
  35. Interview with Kamal Hassaniyah (owner of the hotel where the APG ministers stayed and held discussions led by Hajj Amin), December 1980.
  36. The Near East Radio called the conference ‘the Palestinian Parliament’; see Davar, September 30, 1948; for a description of the reception tendered Hajj Amin by the Palestinians in Gaza, see Samikh Shabib, ‘Muqadamat al-Musadra al-Rasmiyah lilchahsiyah al-Wataniyah al Falastiniyah, 1948-1950’, Shu’un Falastiniyah, 129-131 (August-October 1982), p. 75; Husayn Abu al-Namal, Qitaah Ghaza, 1948-1967, Tataurat Iqtisadiyah wa-Siyassiah wa-Iqtimmaiyah wa-Ascariyah (Beirut, 1979), pp. 22-25; see also al-Hawari, op. cit. Pp. 273-285.
  37. Al-Ahram, October 4, 1948; Davar, October 6, 1948; Abu al-Namal, op. cit., p. 23; Isaam Sakhnini, Falastin al-Dawla (second edition, Acre, 1986), pp. 220-223.
  38. Nevo, op. cit., pp. 108-109; Shabib, op. cit., pp. 77-78.
  39. Nevo, op. cit., pp. 112-113.
  40. New York Times, October 3, 1948; according to another source he was even compelled to participate in the pro-Hasemite conference in Amman; see Shabib, op. cit.; Davar, October 3, 1948.
  41. According to al-Ja’bari himself, he was included in the delegation that went to Cairo, in October 1948 in order to thank King Farouk for his assistance in establishing the APG in Gaza; see Al Hamishmar, February 19, 1971.
  42. Radio Ramallah, December 11, 1948 – Summary of Arabic Braodcasts, no. 107; Al Hamishmar, December 3, 1948.
  43. Shabib, op. cit., pp 79-80; Radio Ramallah, December 2, 1948 – Summary of Arabic Broadcasts, no. 108.
  44. Shehada, op. cit., p. 166; Nevo, op. cit.
  45. Radio Ramallah, December 7, 1948 – Summary of Arabic Broadcasts, no. 113; Shabib, op. cit., pp. 80-81.
  46. Shabib, op. cit., p. 80.
  47. Amin al-Husayni, op. cit., pp. 83-86.
  48. Zrubavel Gilad (ed.), Sefer Ha-Palmach (Tel Aviv, 1955), pp. 871-875, 625-646; see also Davar, Al Hamishmar, October 19, 1948.
  49. New York Times, October 13, 1948; al-Ahram, October 16, 1948; Davar, October 14, 1948; Goren, op. cit., pp. 201-202.
  50. Al-Ahram, October 9, 1948; Ahmad Muawadz, Sarkha ila al-Samaa (Jerusalem), p. 35.
  51. New York Herald Tribune, October 22, 1948.
  52. Davar, November 2, 1948.
  53. New York Herald Tribune, November 2, 1948; Davar, ibid.
  54. Shabib, op. cit., p. 84.
  55. Shabib, op. cit., p. 85; Radio Beirut, May 16, 1950; Ha’aretz, May 15, 1950.
  56. Shabib, op. cit., p. 85; Sachnini, op. cit., p. 225.