The Si­nai with­drawl’s dan­ger­ous legacy

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By MICHAEL FRE­UND

If you open Google Earth and search for “Yamit, Si­nai,” the globe on your screen will slowly spin its way to the Mid­dle East be­fore zoom­ing in on a small area in the north­ern Si­nai Penin­sula, just west of Gaza (though it comes up as “Yam­mit”). There, amid the sand dunes, one can still see the bare and bull­dozed ground where the town of Yamit, a thriv­ing Jewish com­mu­nity of 2,500 peo­ple, once stood, un­til it was up­rooted and de­stroyed in 1982 as part of the peace treaty with Egypt.

The con­tours of var­i­ous struc­tures are still vis­i­ble, pay­ing silent tes­ti­mony to the trau­matic re­moval of Jews from their homes that was car­ried out by a Jewish gov­ern­ment.

As Is­rael marks 40 years since the sign­ing of the Is­rael-Egypt Peace Treaty on the White House Lawn, it is worth re­call­ing the ex­pul­sion that was wrought in its wake, as more than a dozen Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in Si­nai, num­ber­ing a to­tal of 7,000 peo­ple, were com­pelled to dis­band and de­part.

While for­go­ing Si­nai might have brought us four decades of a cold peace with Egypt, it also elicited a heavy price from the Jewish state, one that con­tin­ues to haunt us un­til the present day.

Af­ter a cen­tury in which the values of Zion­ism and set­tling the land had pre­vailed, Is­rael sud­denly took a sharp U-turn, con­fer­ring le­git­i­macy on the il­le­git­i­mate idea that peace must nec­es­sar­ily en­tail with­drawal and re­treat.

In the mirac­u­lous vic­tory of the 1967 war, the Jewish peo­ple were granted a Di­vine gift. Over the course of just six days, we were re­united with the Tem­ple Mount, the hills of Sa­maria and the streets of He­bron.

And in re­claim­ing Si­nai, where our an­ces­tors wan­dered for decades af­ter the Ex­o­dus from Egypt, Is­rael was blessed with priceless strate­gic depth, along with mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions, oil fields, and an un­tamed desert wait­ing to be de­vel­oped.

But just 12 years later, act­ing as though it was in a rush to un­load the penin­sula, the Jewish state gave in to Egyp­tian de­mands and turned over the Si­nai’s 61,000 sq.km. (23,550 sq.mi.) to for­eign con­trol.

In one fell swoop, Is­rael had given away more than 90% of the ter­ri­tory it had lib­er­ated dur­ing the 1967 Six Day War.

SIM­PLY PUT, the with­drawal from Si­nai laid the ground­work for later ex­pul­sions, herald­ing decades of fur­ther Is­raeli ter­ri­to­rial con­ces­sions.

Just over a decade af­ter the pull­out, Is­rael went ahead and signed the Oslo Ac­cords, paving the way for re­treat from crit­i­cal parts of Judea and Sa­maria. And that was fol­lowed in 2005 by the dis­as­trous de­struc­tion of the Jewish com­mu­ni­ties of Gush Katif and north­ern Sa­maria.

And now, much of the world con­tin­ues to nour­ish the idea that eastern Jerusalem could be next.

In this re­spect, con­ced­ing Si­nai has had a cat­a­strophic ef­fect on Is­rael, one that has come to over­shadow what­ever ben­e­fits it may have pro­vided.

Fur­ther­more, con­sider the vo­latil­ity of events in Egypt over the past decade, which un­der­line the per­ils in­her­ent in turn­ing ter­ri­tory over to our neighbors.

Af­ter the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Mo­hamed Morsi was elected pres­i­dent in 2012, with the backing of the Mus­lim Brother­hood. His regime wasted lit­tle time send­ing mixed sig­nals as to whether it viewed it­self as bound by the terms of the treaty with Is­rael.

In July 2013, a mil­i­tary coup top­pled Morsi and re­sulted in the rise to power of Ab­del Fat­tah el-Sisi, who has served as Egyp­tian pres­i­dent for the past five years. While Sisi has been a re­li­able part­ner for Is­rael in counter-ter­ror­ism and other fields, Egypt has failed to build sta­ble and last­ing demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions, leav­ing it vulnerable to fu­ture dis­ar­ray.

If the Mus­lim Brother­hood or some­thing sim­i­lar one day re­turns to power, there is no telling what ef­fect it might have on the state of peace that ex­ists with Is­rael.

So it could very well turn out that while Is­rael gave up Si­nai in or­der to get peace, it might end up with nei­ther.

And therein lies the dan­ger­ous legacy of Si­nai’s with­drawal which sparked a head­long rush to­ward ca­pit­u­la­tion and weak­ness, one that set the stage for mount­ing pres­sure on the Jewish state, from which we have yet to ex­tri­cate our­selves.

So when we look back on the peace treaty with Egypt, we need to do so with our eyes wide open, cog­nizant of the fact that since re­la­tions be­tween states can be ephemeral, ter­ri­tory is not some­thing Is­rael should ever con­sider aban­don­ing.

In the wake of the Is­rael-Egypt Peace Treaty, more than a dozen Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in Si­nai – num­ber­ing a to­tal of 7,000 peo­ple – were com­pelled to dis­band and de­part

(Wiki­me­dia Com­mons)

BEDOUIN IN the Si­nai desert, 1981: ‘It could very well turn out that while Is­rael gave up Si­nai in or­der to get peace, it might end up with nei­ther.’

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