01 February 2016
keystone / hulton archive / getty images
keystone / hulton archive / getty images

THE PALESTINIAN RESISTANCE LEADER Yasser Arafat, wearing his hallmark black-and-white keffiyeh, sits next to Abdel Monem Rifai, the prime minister of Jordan, at a meeting of a Palestinian student organisation in Amman, Jordan, on 12 August 1969.

Both men had recently ascended to positions of power. In February of 1969, Arafat was elected the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, a dominant force in the struggle against Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Since the Palestinians experienced a harrowing defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War, the PLO and affiliated resistance groups had begun to employ guerrilla tactics against Israel from a functionally autonomous territory within Jordan. The month after Arafat began leading the PLO, Rifai, who had held several international diplomatic positions, was appointed the prime minister of Jordan by the country’s king, Hussein bin Talal. Rifai, who was Palestinian himself, supported the PLO’s tactics, saying, “as long as Israeli aggression stands, armed struggle is legal.” Many perceived Hussein’s appointment of Rifai as an attempt to support the Palestinian cause and foster peace in the contentious region.

But the relationship between Jordan and the PLO soon soured. The day after this photograph was taken, Hussein removed Rifai from his position and replaced him with a veteran politician, in what was widely interpreted as a sign of the king’s disillusionment with Jordan’s earlier approach to the Palestinians. Hussein appointed Rifai to the prime ministership once more in June of 1970, but removed him only three months later and declared martial law under a military cabinet. For the next year, Jordan witnessed “Black September,” a bloody civil war between Palestinian militants, led by Arafat, and the Jordanian army, led by Hussein.