The nature of the Arab purpose in Palestine was illumined, was indeed dramatised, by the clash between the terrorist organisations and the Jordanian government that began September 1970.
It was not an ideological confrontation nor the result of a difference of opinion on the proper fate of Israel, the clash between them was over power and authority. What the Fatah demanded was, in fact, a sharing of power and authority in Jordan. The smaller, so-called left-wing organisations led by George Habash and Naif Huwatma called for a complete change of regime -- that is, for Palestinian control in Jordan. In those parts of Jordan which adjoined the border with Israel, they demanded complete autonomy; throughout the rest of the country, they demanded a measure of exemption from the laws of the land for the members of their organisations. Hussein and his ministers were prepared to go-indeed, they did go-a long way to meet these demands. The conflict came over the extent of agreement. In the heat of the battle, the Palestinians involuntarily abandoned the posture to which their propaganda had for years accustomed the world. Exposed suddenly was the cynical imposture of the plea of homelessness by which hearts in so many countries had been touched.
Are authority, power, autonomy-demanded as a right and, to a degree, even granted-the lineaments of "homeless people" struggling for a homeland? Do they reflect the status of a liberation movement merely enjoying the hospitality of a foreign state? The truth is -- and every Arab knows it -- that Fatah (and all the "palestinians") do not look on Jordan as a foreign state at all, but as its home , and its members feel completely at home in it. They behave as though they owned the place -- because they feel that they do, in fact, own it.
Transjordan, the territory of the present Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is historically and geographically a part of Palestine. It was the nearly empty three-quarters of the territory originally entrusted to Britain expressly for the Jewish restoration; the territory had, moreover, been liberated from the Turks with the help of Jewish forces. This widely forgotten fact and the existence instead of the Arab state of Jordan underlines the myth of the Palestine Arabs as a "deprived people!' driven out of their homeland. Whatever the Palestine Arabs may lack, it is not a homeland; whoever has been deprived, it is not the Arabs.
The encounter in Jordan uncovered only a small part of the not at all secret fact of the Arabs' territorial affinities. It was even more rudely exposed in the confrontation in the Lebanese republic. Though- the Arabs do not claim Lebanon as a part of Palestine, in Lebanon the Fatah troops behaved exactly as they had behaved in Jordan. Throughout the country, dotted with their information and recruiting offices, they assumed the right of exemption from the ordinary civic regulations and restraints of the constituted Lebanese authority. They took over refugee camps, turned them into bases, and set up checkposts on the highways. In the southern zone, bordering on Israel, they demanded and seized autonomous control. Their rule was so comprehensive that some newspaper correspondents promptly labelled the area Fatahland. It was from here that they fired their mortars across the border into Israel’s northernmost villages.
For many months Lebanon, divided into two camps, was in a state of perpetual crisis that almost completely paralysed its government. The Lebanese (even the lukewarm Christians) were prepared to, and did, go far to meet the Fatah demands. But even the fervent Moslem supporters of the Fatah declined to overstep the limits beyond which lay anarchy. In the end, an uneasy compromise was worked out. In the south it was, indeed, enforced willy-nilly by the regular daily appearance of Israeli Army patrols, whom the terrorists on the whole left severely alone. Under this protection, the Arab villagers who had earlier fled now came back and resumed their ordered life.