Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013
Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

All roads to Mashaal

After some prevarication, Khaled Mashaal has confirmed his intention of heading the Hamas political bureau for a fifth term, writes Saleh Al-Naami in Gaza

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The head of the Hamas Political Bureau Khaled Mashaal has succumbed to pressure and withdrawn his plans to resign from the group’s leadership, and as a result there are now fewer pressures to hold a meeting of the group’s general council.

It is now almost certain that Mashaal will continue in his position for a fifth term after the council votes again at a later date.

Palestinian sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that Mashaal had changed his mind about resigning after pressure from group members inside and overseas, as well as intervention by Arab and Islamic parties urging him to continue in his position.

 Most members of the Hamas leadership believe that under current circumstances no one in the group would be able to fill the vacuum left by Mashaal if he insisted on not nominating himself for a fifth term.

According to the sources, there were several candidates who could have succeeded Mashaal, including the deputy head of the political bureau Moussa Abu Marzouk and Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, though neither of these would have been able to fill Mashaal’s shoes.

The sources said that many in Hamas had not felt that Abu Marzouk could succeed Mashaal because he lacked charisma. Although he had served as head of the political bureau before Mashaal, his leadership skills were unimpressive, according to Hamas supporters.

Meanwhile, there is a sense inside the group that the head of Hamas needs to be located outside Palestine for symbolic reasons, since the vast majority of Palestinians live as refugees outside Palestine.

This has highlighted the importance of the Hamas leader also being from the outside, with some believing that choosing a leader from the inside could send a political message implying that the group was compromising on the Palestinian refugee issue.

It is unlikely that Haniyeh could succeed Mashaal because he is still prime minister of the Gaza government. According to Hamas sources, serving as both prime minister and head of Hamas could limit Haniyeh’s ability to perform well in the positions, since taking charge of the group would undermine his abilities as prime minister.

Even if Haniyeh delegated his deputy Ziyad Al-Zaza as his replacement in the duties of prime minister, this would not exempt him from his legal and constitutional duties as prime minister of the Gaza government.

Irrespective of who is in charge of the political bureau, Hamas leaders say that his success depends on his being allowed to work freely, including in terms of freedom of movement. Some believe the group’s capacity for diplomatic and political activism would be limited if its leader was not outside Gaza, if the Rafah border crossing was shut for any reason, for example.

The group is also worried that if the leader were inside the Palestinian territories, this could give Israel leverage by attempts to assassinate him in response to any operations by the resistance.

At present, Israel has been cautious about targeting Hamas leaders outside Palestine, especially when they are in countries not hostile to it. At the same time, many Hamas leaders believe the scope of work of the head of the political bureau is very different from the functions of prime minister of Gaza, also ruling out Haniyeh.

There is also opposition to choosing Haniyeh for personal reasons, since he lacks leadership skills, especially charisma, and he is thought to have an innate tendency towards consensus and compromise. Haniyeh is said to avoid taking decisions if he feels they could result in clashes with others.

One of the reasons that made Mashaal change his mind was the refusal of Saleh Al-Aruri, a member of the political bureau, to replace him.

Mashaal felt that Al-Aruri would be his best successor, though sources told the Weekly that he had been touched by pleas to change his mind. These had been important for Mashaal, since there had earlier been an impression that Hamas leaders inside Palestine did not want Mashaal to continue in his post after disputes when he signed the Doha Declaration with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

According to the declaration, a national consensus government will be formed under the leadership of Abbas. However, despite differences over the Doha deal, sources said that it had become apparent even to leaders who had criticised Mashaal that he was popular among the group’s base inside and outside Palestine.

As a result, there was no longer any talk of a replacement. The sources said that Mashaal’s leadership and his command of the media during and after the recent Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip had boosted his appeal and demonstrated that he should continue for a fifth term.

The sources said that although regional and political conditions had prevented the holding of a council meeting to elect a new head of the political bureau, there had been almost a consensus in favour of Mashaal.

The sources said that the next meeting of the council would choose the members of the group’s political bureau, and it would be interesting to see who the new members of the top Hamas body will be.

Many Palestinians believe that having Mashaal continue in his post is a key condition to achieving national consensus because of his flexibility and his skill in overcoming differences to end divisions.

There have been leaks to the effect that planning is now underway to hold meetings between the leaders of Fatah and Hamas in order to restart conciliation efforts, but there has been little evidence that these plans are taking shape.

“The leaderships of both groups are not talking to each other right now,” an informed source told the Weekly. With the exception of the period following the military confrontation that ended with Hamas taking control of the Gaza Strip, communications did not stop in the way that they have today, the source said.

The source noted that “the chemistry” between the leaders on both sides, especially Azzam Al-Ahmed, a member of Fatah’s central committee and head of its national dialogue delegation, and Abu-Marzouk, who heads Hamas’s team in the dialogue, had evaporated after the verbal quarrel between Al-Ahmed and parliamentary speaker Aziz Al-Dweik.

Al-Ahmed had accused Al-Dweik of cooperating with Israel.

The source said that Hamas leaders and supporters had put a lot of pressure on Mashaal not to allow the restarting of communications with Fatah until Al-Ahmed had apologised to Al-Dweik.

Meanwhile, Abbas does not seem to be interested in contacting Hamas while US President Barack Obama is visiting Tel Aviv and Ramallah.

The source noted that deteriorating domestic conditions in Egypt and a lack of interest by Cairo in the issue had been detrimental to conciliation efforts. He added that after the last meeting of the Palestinian faction leaders in Cairo, the Egyptians had promised to send a delegation to Ramallah and Gaza to bring viewpoints closer together and bridge contentious issues, especially over forming a national consensus government. However, the delegation had not arrived.

The source warned that if disagreements over a consensus government were not resolved, there would be little hope that bilateral talks between the two sides could succeed.

While Abbas believes the next government should have only a three-month tenure, to be followed by new parliamentary and presidential elections, Hamas will not agree to elections before resolving issues relating to dialogue.

These include overhauling the Palestine Liberation Organisation, forming security institutions based on “professionalism and nationalism” and national reconciliation.

Optimists hope that by staying in his position Mashaal will be able to increase the chances of ending inter-Palestinian disputes.

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