GAZA CITY: Despite persistent tensions between the Egyptian government and the leadership of Hamas, which effectively rules Gaza, a high ranking Hamas official sought to tamp down the controversies in an interview with Daily News Egypt.
Dr Ahmed Yousef doesn’t fit the mold of your typical Hamas leader. He loves Tom Clancy novels and is quick to extol the democratic virtues of Google. He lived for a long time in the United States, and his English is nearly flawless.
Yousef serves as deputy foreign minister and as political advisor to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.
Egypt has come under intense pressure in the Arab world for its continued blockade of Gaza. After Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007 in a coup, Egypt aligned itself with US and Israeli policy by mostly sealing the borders in an effort to prevent weapons from reaching Hamas and in order to pressure the Islamist group politically by depriving the territory of basic goods.
Throughout the interview, though, Yousef refused to pin blame on Hamas.
“We don’t blame Egypt for [the blockade], per se. The only one we should blame for the siege is Israel,” he said.
To further argue his point, Yousef repeatedly made the questionable claim that the Rafah port isn’t suited for transferring aid, just travelers. The idea was to suggest that Israel had the exclusive power and responsibility to ease up on the blockade.
Perhaps driving Yousef’s efforts to smooth over the supposed rift between Egypt and Hamas is the view by some in the Arab world that Egypt is in the strongest position to help negotiate a rapprochement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas.
Yousef levied heavy criticism on Abbas, saying the West Bank leader, affectionately known as Abou Mazen, was in a “very weak situation.”
He did say, though, that Abbas was welcome to visit Gaza “anytime” and argued that Abbas’ close relationship with Egypt would be critical to reconciliation.
The Egyptians, he said, “have the capabilities. The people of Gaza are very close to Egypt. And Abou Mazen is very close to Egypt.”
Despite the tactful talk from one of Hamas’ top diplomats, real tensions with Egypt remain.
Egypt is in the midst of building a subterranean wall along its border with Gaza in an effort to close down many of the tunnels that both Egyptians and Palestinians use to smuggle goods into Gaza. The tunnels remained secret for years when Fatah ruled Gaza, but Hamas has brought them “above ground,” championing them in direct defiance of Israeli and Egyptian policy.
On this point, Yousef was willing to concede some tension.
“I’m not saying we’re 100 percent satisfied with what Egypt is doing,” he said.
Despite the landmark 1978 Camp David Accords, which saw Egypt as the first Arab country to forge peace with Israel, and continued peace efforts between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority, Yousef continues to argue against negotiation with Israel, saying that the Jewish state is unprepared to make concessions.
“I do believe the people in Ramallah have tried to enact peace with Israel. They made all the compromises. But I haven’t seen Israel make any concessions,” he said.
Using more forceful language, Yousef then dismissed any notion that reconciliation between the PA and Hamas would lead to a moderation of Hamas’ stance towards Israel.
“We still see Israel as the enemy. They talk the words of peace, but the actions of war,” Yousef said.
Yousef refused to partake in Egypt’s favorite parlor game and speculate who would run Egypt after President Hosni Mubarak. While Palestinian and, more specifically, Hamas interests are tied up in having an Egyptian president in power who can play ball with the Israelis and both sides of the Palestinian dispute, Yousef wouldn’t make his preference known.
“All we care about is to see Egypt more stable,” he said.