British imperial strategy, King Abdullah and the Jewish agency
This thesis employs newly declassified material in order to examine relations between the
British government, King Abdullah and the Jewish Agency between 1921-1951. It starts
by placing this relationship within the context of British Imperial strategy in the Middle
East. It describes this relationship during the period when the British became the
hegemonic power in the Middle East after World War I, and then the period of
decolonisation after 1945.
The underlying premise of this thesis is that the British were motivated by a
combination of diplomatic and strategic considerations in Palestine and Transjordan. This
study employs the conceptual framework of imperial historians. It shows that the British
relied on a combination of 'formal' and 'informal' techniques in Transjordan. This study
advances the historical debate by exemplifying the limited effect of these methods on a
ruler who was determined to pursue his own interests and not those of the British. This
thesis provides a positive reassessment of Abdullah's relations with the British. It takes
advantage of untapped sources in order to challenge the argument that the British
'colluded' with Abdullah to occupy the West Bank in 1948
This thesis focuses on relations between Abdullah and the Jewish Agency. It is
based on the assumption that this relationship was only one aspect of Abdullah's
unrealised dynastic plan that sought to create a Hashemite monarchy over 'Greater Syria'.
In this context Abdullah envisaged a rump Jewish entity with a certain degree of
autonomy, but not sovereignty, within this Kingdom. Although Abdullah's ideas varied
over the years, he consistently stuck to this idea.
This study argues that the likelihood of a long-term political agreement between
the two sides was quite unlikely because it was contrary to the Zionist objective of
establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. As far as the Jewish Agency is concerned, it is
hard to define a coherent policy on relations with the neighbouring Arab states, and
Transjordan in particular, using the extant documentation. This thesis argues that there
was no collusion between Abdullah and the Jewish Agency to carve up Palestine at the
expense of the Palestinians. Hence it is possible to conclude that this relationship was not
nearly as significant as is often assumed.
Ultimately, the two most important periods in this study are between 1936-1939
and 1945-1951. In order to understand these complex events it is crucial to take into
consideration wider issues, especially the amorphous process of decolonisation. It is
possible to argue that the British withdrawal from Palestine was a result of a combination
of circumstances. Even after the British departure from Palestine in 1948, they still
retained a diminished but important role in relations between Abdullah and the Israelis
until the murder of Abdullah in July 1951. This was manifested in the contentious supply
of arms to Transjordan, and the application of the 1948 Anglo-Transjordan Treaty. This
thesis contends that the Treaty deterred the Israelis from invading the West Bank in 1948,
and contributed to the acrimonious nature of Anglo-Israeli relations in the years
immediately after 1948.