Terra morata: the West Bank in Menachem Begin’s worldview

Journal article

Jensehaugen, Jørgen (2020) Terra morata: the West Bank in Menachem Begin’s worldview, Contemporary Levant 5 (1): 54–63.

Read the article here (Open Access)

When Menachem Begin, Israeli prime minister and founder of the Likud party, formulated Israel’s claim to the West Bank, he did not utilise the classic terra nullius settler argument. Instead, his ideological claim was that the land was a terra morata, a territory which had been in a state of ‘extratemporal hiatus’, to borrow a term from Bakhtin. This was illustrated through his insistence on using the Biblical names Judea and Samaria to denote the West Bank. The Zionist claim to the land was thus not that it lacked a sovereign, but rather that the sovereign had returned. The Israeli occupation was thus construed as a resumption of history, while the Palestinians were placed outside history, negating their historical and contemporary claim to the land. This article analyses how Begin’s worldview played out by investigating the self-rule proposal for the Palestinians which he launched in 1977. This proposal (if implemented) would have postponed any claims of sovereignty over the territory indefinitely, while ensuring that the Palestinians gained no national autonomy. In essence, Palestinian self-rule was a sleight of hand. For Begin the West Bank (and Gaza) were eternally Jewish territories, and the Palestinians mere residents on the land. Unlike Israeli settlers, they were not considered to be of the land.

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