The Jordan River makes for a cultural barrier, but not an ethnic one. An almost impassible waterway a century ago, the Jordan River marked the boundary of civilization. East of Jordan lay barbarous Arabia, but the West Bank showed a degree of civilization, first owing to the influence of the Ottomans and, since the late nineteenth century, of the Europeans. The West-Bank Arabs developed more of a society than their East-Bank compatriots; the difference was largely due to economic conditions. The West Bank allowed for subsistence agriculture, while the East Bank’s desert landscape barely supported the nomadic lifestyle. Only in the nineteenth century did the West-Bank Arabs move to the East Bank and establish the first settled population there.

Jews have a religious and historical claim to the East Bank, and Transjordan was originally included in the Jewish territory. Though the British later changed their minds and claimed that the Balfour Declaration was not intended to include Transjordan, the understanding was clearly different in 1919. At that time, Zionists planned on settling Transjordan, and the British concurred until the need arose in 1922 to accommodate an Iraqi princeling left without a kingdom. The British carved Iraq from Iran and Jordan from Israel to accommodate the two Faisal brothers, who had been evicted from Syria. A century ago, Transjordan was sparsely populated—about 200,000 Arabs in the area thrice the size of Palestine. Jews were one hundred times more populous worldwide, but received one quarter of the Mandate territory.

Jordan remains a sleepy desert area, but it is slowly closing a cultural gap with the West-Bank Arabs. This creates a basis for the eventual agglomeration of the two banks into a Palestinian state. That development is supported by growing pan-Palestinian nationalism on both sides of the Jordan River. Jordanian Palestinians also see the pan-Palestinian identity as a viable counter-balance to the current dominance of Jordan by the Bedouin minority. Jordan (or Palestine, whatever the name) on both banks of the river would extinguish Israel’s water supply as the inefficient Arab farmers start drawing the water unsustainably. Israel will have no choice but to force Jordan’s sparse population to move to the east, and reclaim the water sources. The world somehow accepts minuscule Arab populations occupying huge tracts of lands with prehistoric density while Israel is pushed into eight-mile-wide borders. Such an arrangement is not viable, and Israel will have to return to the 1919 plan of settling both banks.