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.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Jerusalem Post