Egypt’s “Unholy” Claim to the Sinai

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“After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel,” said Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Rashad al-Bayoumi in an interview on Russian television. Kamal Helbawi, another leader of the Brotherhood, echoed this statement, saying, “We cannot respect such agreements and won’t approve of them.”

Not to be outdone, Dr. Ayman Nur, leader of the liberal secular Tomorrow Party, and as Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick points out, “the man heralded as the liberal democratic alternative to Mubarak by Washington neo-conservatives,” announced on Egyptian radio: “The Camp David Accords are over. Egypt has to at least conduct negotiations over conditions of the agreement.”

However you say chutzpah in Arabic, these Egyptian leaders have plenty of it. It takes nerve to suggest the renegotiation of a treaty their country never implemented – Egypt shelved the treaty and ignored its provisions once it had the Sinai neatly tucked into its pocket.

But if it’s a renegotiation the Egyptians want, Israel ought to oblige. Renegotiation should start where negotiations began: with Israel controlling the Sinai, and specifically, with an eye to Egyptian claims to that territory.

The fact of the matter is that Egypt has never had more than a tenuous historical connection to the Sinai Peninsula. This is pertinent, as President Anwar Sadat based his claim to the area by cynically describing it as “holy” soil. Asked by an American journalist why he insisted that Israel evacuate the Sinai, Sadat declared: Sinai is “part of our land” and “I cannot give up an inch of our land.”

But Israel has at least as much right – indeed more right – to Sinai than Egypt. As Shmuel Katz, an adviser to Menachem Begin and author of “Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine,” pointed out, Sinai was not historically part of Egyptian territory. It was a political no man’s land. In an agreement between Britain and the Ottoman Empire in 1906, “Egypt was given the job of administering Sinai, but it wasn’t given sovereignty over Sinai. It meant that if Egypt used this administered territory to make a war on Israel, there was certainly no historic reason for us to give back Sinai,” Katz said.

Katz’s claim is backed up by an in-depth 76-page report issued by the Israel Ministry of Justice in 1971. The report examined competing claims to the Sinai. Its conclusion was apparently too controversial for then-Foreign Minister Abba Eban, who had the report suppressed.

On page 70, the report states: “Upon the break-up of the Turkish Empire at the end of the First World War and its renunciation under the Treaty of Lausanne 1923 of rights and titles to certain largely undefined territories, including Sinai, a void was created because there was no formal disposition of Turkish Sovereignty either by cession or annexation or in any other formal manner as happened with other Turkish territories which were placed under a number of mandates or otherwise ‘legally’ disposed of. The diplomatic fiction of Egyptian independence ‘granted’ by Britain in 1922 and its extensions in 1936 and 1954 did not and does not alter the formal situation. The abstract title to Sinai still remains outstanding to be acquired by one or other mode recognized under international law.”

The British themselves affirm this. In the wake of the 1956 war in which Israel first took the Sinai, Richard Meinertzhagen, who was military advisor to the Middle East Department of the British Colonial Office from 1921-24, wrote in a letter to the Times of London on Feb. 9, 1957:

Sir: Mr. Ben Gurion [is quoted] as saying that he did not attack Egypt proper. That assertion is perfectly true. The Israeli army attacked and occupied No man’s land. In 1926, Lord Lloyd asked the Foreign Office if the 1906 agreement was still valid and was told that it was. This was personally confirmed to me by Lloyd in 1928. Egypt’s only rights in Sinai are administrative and these have been abused by using Sinai as a base for fedayeen raids and erecting coastal batteries at the mouth of the Gulf of Akaba.

C.S. Jarvis, governor of Sinai after it was attached to Egypt by the British following their conquest of the Peninsula in World War I, wrote in his book “Three Deserts” (John Murray, 1936):

[The administration of Sinai]… was the illegitimate offspring of the British Army … and the Egyptian Ministry of Finance was asked to accept paternity. This they never did willingly … having been conceived and brought into the world by purely British influence, it was treated by the Egyptian Government from the first with studied neglect.

Several years after the Six Day War, Eliezer Livneh, a long-time leader in the Labor Party and a founder of the Land of Israel Movement, investigated Sadat’s claims that Sinai was part of Egypt.

“The question here is fundamental,” Livneh wrote. “Is the Sinai Peninsula in fact Egypt, or part of Egypt? Has Sinai ever constituted a part of Egypt throughout its long history? Have the Egyptians treated Sinai as if it were part of their homeland? Have they felt it as part of their homeland? The answer to all these is negative, unequivocally and absolutely.”

“The Egyptians saw Sinai as a foreign territory, at the most a border colony, and they treated it accordingly,” Livneh wrote. “[T]he Cairo government did nothing to populate and develop the Peninsula, in spite of Egypt’s overabundant population and the tremendous birthrate in the Nile Valley. The sole agricultural development project was initiated during the 1920s, by the British governor, C.S. Jarvis. The oil wells of Abu Rudeis were initiated, financed and established by Italians.”

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  • ObamaYoMoma

    It’s my opinion that if Egypt abrogates the 1979 treaty then Israel ought to take possession of the Sinai.

  • Yehudi Amiti

    Sinai has several major archaeological sites and ruins from Pharaonic times and the vast majority of its people are Arabic speaking Muslims. That certainly does not make the area open to Israel's expansionist claims!

    • ziontruth

      Yehudi Mezuyaf,

      If you launch attacks from a piece of land and then the other side seizes it, it's for keeps. It may be ceded again in a peace treaty, but if Egypt is taken over by a regime that declares the peace treaty null and void then Israel has every right to take the land back.

      Rabbi Yehudah Amital zt"l was asked about ceding the Sinai, which is considered by all rabbinical authorities to be outside the Land of Israel. He answered that he opposed its concession because it would open the door for concessions of land that does fall within the Jewish patrimony. Which indeed happened.

  • Gamal

    When I read at the bottom of the page that the writer is “the former executive director of Americans for A Safe Israel”, I realized immediately why he wrote this article!!
    For Egypt and Israel, I want to say that I’m a member of 25 January Revolution that ousted the Dictator, and I agree that we should build strong relation with the people of Israel economically, educationally, literary, and politically but after Israel gives back all stolen and occupied land from Syria and Palestinians, without leaving single centimeter.
    For Sinai, dear writer you should be educated that it is an integral part of Egypt for 7 thousand years and your ridiculous myths have no place except in your air-conditioned office in UAS!

    Thanks and Regards,

    • Raymond in DC

      Gamal makes the same "from time immemorial" argument as the Palestinians – and his has no more foundation. What he reveals is that despite all talk of democracy and freedom, he promotes the same irredentist aspirations as another Gamal … Abdel Nasser.

    • ziontruth

      "When I read at the bottom of the page that the writer is 'the former executive director of Americans for A Safe Israel',…

      Shorter Gamal: The writer is a Zionist stooge! It's a conspiracy! Zionist everywhere! Everywhere! OMG ZOMG ZOG!!!!1!1!!!

      "…but after Israel gives back all stolen and occupied land from Syria and Palestinians, without leaving single centimeter."

      We have stolen no land from Syria, and the Jews are the only true Palestinians. The so-called "Palestinians" are Arab settler-colonist invaders, and for the sake of peace they must evacuate all the land they illicitly inhabit, without leaving a single centimeter.

      "For Sinai, dear writer you should be educated that it is an integral part of Egypt for 7 thousand years…"

      Nope. The Sinai is the Sinai. In Pharaonic times, it was the buffer zone between "the gift of the Nile" and the Semites, Hittites and other non-Egyptians of Canaan.

  • garretso

    Perhaps the Arabs should evacuate the whole of North Africa and return to Arabia thereby leaving the southern shores of the Mediterranean to the indigenous inhabitants whom have been living under their wicked oppression for these many centuries.

  • Doc Crabtree

    I strongly contend with the writer's supposition that Egypt "shelved the Treaty and never implemented it." The treaty was jointly implimented by Israel and Egypt and it includes a monitoring mechanism, i.e. the Multinational Force and Observers, which insures no movement or accumulation in Zones A, B, C and D. Zone D, by the way, is actually in Israeli territory. Israeli and Egyptian representatives meet periodically to discuss issues of interest to both countries vis-a-vis the Sinai.

    How do I know this? I spent a year as an MFO Peacekeeper in the Sinai. I also know that the Treaty makes sense for both countries… peace serves both nations well.