Senior Hamas leader says Israel could be isolated by Egypt vote


GAZA CITY — A presidential victory for the Muslim Brotherhood candidate in Egypt would leave Israel isolated and vulnerable in the Middle East, according to senior Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad, who serves as the Palestinian militant group’s deputy foreign minister.

In an interview with The Times, Hamad, who is considered a leading moderate voice in Hamas, said a win by Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi in the June 16-17 runoff in Egypt would be a boon to Palestinians, ending the frosty relationship Hamas had with Egypt under former President Hosni Mubarak. Morsi’s opponent, former Egyptian prime minister Ahmed Shafik, served under Mubarak.

Hamad said that no one in Hamas supports formally recognizing Israel as a nation, yet his group would commit to a cease-fire if Israel did too.

As Hamas marks the five-year anniversary next week of its takeover of the Gaza Strip after a battle with rival Palestinian faction Fatah, Hamad said both sides should acknowledge that the split has prevented each from realizing its goals for the Palestinian people.

What will it mean for Hamas if Muslim Brotherhood, which helped create Hamas, wins the presidency in Egypt?

It will make Israel weaker and more isolated. Israel will have no friends or alliances left in this region. Because now we are listening to the voice of the people, and not the voice of Mubarak or [the late Libyan rulerMoammar] Kadafi, we will find that people are very sympathetic with the Palestinian cause. It will be important to improving the life here.... But it’s a mistake to think that Egypt will only support Hamas and not the other sides. They will give more to assistance to the Palestinian people, not just Hamas.

With historic elections in Egypt and Tunisia, and widespread demands for democratic reforms throughout the Arab world, how can Hamas justify conducting its internal leadership elections in the usual secrecy, as it is currently doing?

Personally, I support moving forward and being more open. We discuss it inside the organization. Some think that now that Hamas has become the government, there is no need to be secret. But others are not sure because of the occupation. Israel may still target [Hamas] people. We’re still in a conflict. But we do have to be more open. Maybe next time.

Hamas seized control of Gaza Strip almost exactly five years ago following its victory a year earlier in the 2006 election. Yet today most polls show Hamas sagging in popularity behind rival Fatah Party. Why have people turned away?

Anyone who jumps from the opposition to the government will lose votes. This happens in the U.S., France and everywhere. The situation is not easy. People are suffering and facing difficulties with electricity and gas, getting passports, imports/exports. Now all this is on the shoulders of Hamas. Hamas has tried to do what it can, but it’s not easy because of the siege, the blockade and political isolation.

Also people hate the division between Hamas and Fatah. So I don’t expect Hamas will get the same votes as in the past. This is the lesson we have learned after five years of division. Without a coalition and cooperation, [Palestinian Authority PresidentMahmoud] Abbascan’t succeed in the peace process or his political track, and Hamas can’t succeed in ruling Gaza. Without unity, everyone loses.

Reconciliation talks are back on and it seems both sides have agreed that Fatah head Abbas will serve as the prime minister. Does that mean Abbas will be the boss in Gaza?

It won’t be easy for Abbas since he is also PA president, PLO head and head of Fatah. To be frank, I’m still not sure that in this atmosphere between Hamas and Fatah, the government can work normally. It’s supposed to be a government of independents, but it will be very difficult for the government to be free from Hamas and Fatah because they are the major powers. If something were to happen, rockets or clashes with Israel, we will need the influence of Hamas.

You mentioned the problems here, yet driving around Gaza one can’t help but notice the widespread construction. Stores look filled with goods and busy.

The situation is better. There are building materials, new cars. Some factories are starting to work. More goods are coming from [the Israeli border crossing at] Kerem Shalom than in the past. More goods are coming through the tunnels [built to Egypt to bypass border closures].

Since the release in October of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit [whose 2006 capture led Israel to tighten its Gaza blockade] are there any signs that Israel or the international community will lift the blockade, or will they press Hamas to accept the so-called quartet conditions: renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept past peace deals.

The international community should open their eyes and see that the policy of boycott and isolation is not fruitful or productive. Hamas is now a major player in this region. I don’t say it’s an angel. We made some mistakes. But Hamas has to be part of the peace process. We’ve made many positive changes in the past five years. We agreed [in principal] to become part of the PLO. We participated in elections. We talk about a cease-fire. But the international community doesn’t look at that.

No one in Hamas will accept the quartet conditions. There is nothing to convince us that this track is correct. Look at what happened to Abbas [who accepts the conditions]. For 21 years he’s said he’s a man of peace and against violence. He did everything Israel asked. He even makes security coordination with Israel [in the West Bank]. What did he get? More settlements. Israel ignores him. He’s very angry.

Setting aside the issue of recognition of Israel, isn’t it reasonable that the international community should expect that Hamas, or anyone receiving its support and funding, commit itself to a political process and renounce violence?

Look, we are not Al Qaeda. We are fighting for our people. We don’t believe in violence if we can achieve our goals through peaceful means. If Israel commits to a truce and calm, we will too.