Hamas has announced a new leader of its Qatar-based political wing, in a significant win for the Gaza-based faction of the group.
Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s former leader in the Gaza Strip, will replace Hamas’s current leader Khaled Mashaal who lives in exile in Qatar, after he completed the maximum two terms in office.
Haniyeh had long been seen as the leading candidate against other figures such as Mashaal’s deputy Moussa Abu Marzouk and Muhammad Nazal.
Haniyeh’s election completes a complex internal political process that began five months ago. Part of that process involved the election of Yahya Sinwar as the new leader of Hamas in Gaza and continued last week with the publication of a new document of political principles. Hamas experts have speculated that this is part of a strategy to reverse years of isolation in the Middle East by appearing to moderate its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and distance itself from other Islamist groups in the region, especially the Muslim Brotherhood.
Israel has dismissed the new document of political principles as an attempt to “fool the world” into believing Hamas has softened its stance.
Haniyeh will be immediately faced with a number of serious challenges. The Gaza Strip is suffering an energy crisis and Palestinian Authority Chairman, and head of Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas recently announced major funding cuts for the Gaza Strip.
Al-Hayat reported that Haniyeh is expected to leave Gaza city soon and move to Qatar in order to allow him freedom of movement across the region. Egypt has reportedly refused to open the Rafah border crossing for him to leave.
Hamas is an illegal organisation in the US, UK and EU. Hamas continues to reject the Oslo accords and asserts that resistance for the liberation of Palestine will remain “a legitimate right, a duty and an honour.” The head of the Shin Bet security agency, Nadav Argaman, recently warned the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee that “Hamas and global jihadi infrastructure are working every day in attempting to conduct terrorist attacks in Israeli territory.”