To the British went League of Nations mandates for Palestine, which included Transjordan, and Iraq while the French were given mandates for Syria and Lebanon.
As British Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill had considerable responsibility for establishing an order in the region that would further British colonial ambitions.
Great Arab Revolt
As part of that process he met in March 1921,with Prince Abdullah part of the powerful Hashemite family and one of the leaders in the Great Arab Revolt of 1916.
The Hashemite dynasty, descendents of the Prophet Muhammad, were key figures in the Middle East both pre-war and post war. Abdullah’s brothers both held royal positions, Feisal as King of Iraq and Ali as King of the Hijaz.
Amirate of Transjordan
Churchill offered Abdullah the Amirate of Transjordan on certain condition: Abdullah would give up his ambition to conquer Syria and recognise the British rule over Transjordan as part of the Palestine mandate. Although he accepted these conditions, Abdullah was never to give up his dreams of a Hashemite controlled greater Syria.
Churchill was later to boast the Amirate of Transjordan was created by the stroke of a pen on a Sunday afternoon.
By May 1923 with Abdullah at its head Transjordan was formally recognised as a state by Britain, a move that angered many Zionists who complained the creation of Transjordan reduced the size of any future Jewish homeland.
Transjordan was small and impoverished, its boundaries created by political expediency rather than any previous geographical or historical relationship. It had one railway line, very few roads and no income except the annual subsidy given by the British.
Avi Shlaim said in the Lion of Jordan, ”Transjordan was a very insubstantial principality for so ambitious a prince. The contrast between the barren and insignificant patch of territory to administer on behalf of the British mandatory power and Abdullah’s own heart’s desire could hardly have been greater.”
Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
In May 1946, with full independence from the British, Abdullah became the first king of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
With the British finally departing Palestine, the state of Israel was proclaimed on 14 May 1948. It brought immediate pan Arab retaliation. History records an overwhelming military victory for Israel but Jordan too gained territory including East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.
The war created around 700,000 Palestinian refugees of which about half crossed the border into Jordan drastically changing the demographics of Abdullah’s fledgling country.
Many of those forced from their Palestine homes called Abdullah a traitor lambasting him for allowing much of Palestine to be swallowed up by the Israelis and then taking the rest for himself. However there are also those who strongly argue that his action prevented a much larger number of displaced Palestinians.
Although some Israelis still deny it, there is considerable evidence, some documented in the Lion of Jordan, of collusion or negotiation between Abdullah and Golda Meir. Indeed Avi Shlaim has said in his book Collusion Across the Jordan that secret diplomacy between Jordan and Israel in 1947 was important in determining the outcome of the first Arab Israeli war.
King Abdullah’s death, on 20 July 1951, at the hands of an assassin outside Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, brought to an end the reign of a man who on the surface had a veneer of Arab nationalism, underneath however he was probably a pragmatist trying to survive in a volatile region struggling to come to terms with the State of Israel and the new order.