After months of fits and starts, Hamas finally completed its internal leadership elections, news sources report. The head of the politburo will again be Khaled Meshal, who had previously expressed his intent to step down. Meshal’s deputy, according to some unconfirmed sources, will be Ismail Haniyeh, who also is the de facto prime minster of Gaza.
It is worth recalling that the Hamas politburo vacated its long-standing headquarters in Damascus last year amidst the increased violence in Syria. The politburo, or external leadership, was forced to scatter throughout the Muslim world. Meshal was reportedly spending more time in Qatar. Mousa Abu Marzook set up shop in Egypt. The politburo remains without an official headquarters, relying instead on a handful of actors that now influence the movement.
Meshal's selection demonstrates the increased importance of Qatar, which has emerged as one of Hamas' primary funders since Iran's funding dried up due to U.S.-led sanctions, among other factors. Qatar is, in blunt terms, Hamas' new ATM.
If Haniyeh is confirmed as the number two, the move would signify the rising importance of the Gaza-based leadership, which fights on the “front lines” against Israel. Indeed, Gaza remains the center of political gravity within the movement.
The fact that the elections took place in Egypt demonstrates that Egypt is still an important factor for Hamas. Despite recent tensions (Egypt flooded Hamas smuggling tunnels and accused Hamas members of hatching plots against the state), both Cairo and Hamas understand that Egypt is Hamas' key to the outside world. If Hamas is ever to integrate politically or economically with the rest of the Arab world, Egypt is the portal.
Notably absent in this leadership selection process was Turkey, which has become a rather outspoken champion of Hamas in recent years. Last year, Ankara reportedly provided $300 million to Hamas. It continues to export goods to Gaza and help with costly reconstruction projects after the 2012 conflict with Israel. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan recently announced he would visit Gaza, too. Yet, Turkey does not figure prominently in the new leadership structure (that we know of).
Nor is Sudan’s role reflected in the new make-up, but Meshal is a frequent visitor to Khartoum, where the Bashir regime coordinates closely with the regime in Tehran. While Iran-Hamas-Sudan ties have been documented for years, Haniyeh's selection, to some extent, reinforces the importance of Hamas' close ties with both Sudan and Iran, which furnishes short-and long-range rockets and other weaponry to the Palestinian terrorist groups.
In other words, the Hamas leadership selection reflects absolutely no changes in the group's approach to terrorism or rejectionism. Meshal, during a visit to Gaza in December, vowed that Hamas would continue its strategy of violence against Israel. With a new four-year term, it’s reasonable to expect more of the same.
Jonathan Schanzer vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies and author of Hamas vs Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine (Palgrave Macmillan 2008).