Bitterlemons: What is the current situation at the Rafah crossing, after Egypt announced that it would be open to travelers?
Hamad: Generally speaking, the situation at Rafah crossing is sufficient, but there are crises because the number of passengers allowed to cross is limited while the number registered and ready to travel is quite large.
In principle, Egypt never mentioned anything about the number of passengers allowed, which would indicate that they have changed their mind [about opening the crossing], but the slow procedures at the crossing make it difficult to allow a sufficient number of passengers. What Egypt did announce is that the [crossing's] working hours are from nine to five and cover certain categories of people. People over age 40 and under 16 can cross without the need to obtain a visa. On the other hand, there is a category of people who are returned by Egypt for security reasons, [an issue] that we also try to solve with Egyptian authorities.
Why do you think that Egypt has taken this position on the crossing, despite the change in its leadership? Is Hamas negotiating with Egypt on this issue?
We are in touch with the Egyptian authorities to solve some of those problems. One of the issues that needs resolution is that many people between 16 and 40 years old have no reference point to go to and apply for a visa because Egypt has no representative office in Gaza. This makes it difficult for Gazans to cross into Egypt. Generally, I can say we have a good relationship with Egypt and we communicate almost every day for many reasons.
I believe Egypt has its own considerations in following these procedures at the crossing but they promised us that once we Palestinians reconcile and manage to form a unity government then the crossing will be reopened completely, as it used to be in the past.
What does Hamas know about the operation in Eilat? Is it true that the attackers were Egyptians from the Sinai? Have there been discussions with Egypt over this issue?
We have discussed it with the Egyptians. In our contacts with all the Palestinian factions, they all denied any link with the Eilat operation. It appears that Israel used the Eilat attack to avoid its internal domestic crisis. It also wanted to satisfy its public by attacking Gaza without any proof or evidence that Gaza stood behind [the attack].
Israel, so far, has not published any names or photos of the Eilat attackers, which makes us really suspicious about who was behind it.
Egypt recently claimed that it prevented a major Israeli operation in Gaza, maybe even the assassination of Ismail Haniyeh. Is this true?
I haven't heard the Egyptians saying this. We communicated with them every day during the escalation and, frankly speaking, they played an important role in stopping the Israeli aggression against Gaza, along with the United Nations.
Why didn't Egypt withdraw its ambassador from Tel Aviv after several Egyptian soldiers were killed along the Israel-Egypt border?
I think it's still early for Egypt to get into a diplomatic confrontation with any party. Conditions in Egypt are not stable and it needs to rearrange its house internally and heal the post-revolution wounds. Then they might consider confrontation with Israel or others.
On the other hand, there is a sense of patriotism that has arisen, and one feels more dignity in the Egyptian voice than before. Now they are taking more serious steps regarding the Egyptian security presence in Sinai than they were able to do in the past.
How would you summarize the "new Egypt's" attitude towards Palestinians and Israel?
It's difficult to judge, but in general I can say that the first signs of a new Egyptian attitude appear positive. Egypt deals with Palestinians and their cause in a more positive manner, which means the future will be better for us. Moreover, Egypt's new attitude towards Israel seems to be negative for Israel and could in the future put an end to 50 years of Israeli arrogance. In other words, someone will finally tell Israel "no".
A PALESTINIAN VIEW Telling Israel 'no': An interview with Ghazi Hamad