Hamas again avoids change


Reports are coming thick and fast that Hamas is preparing to reconfirm Khaled Mishaal as the head of its Politburo. He will, apparently, have the Gaza-based leader Ismail Hanniyeh as his deputy.

It’s taken Hamas well over a year to conclude this leadership tussle, with advantages shifting back and forth over time. But the emerging arrangement, assuming it’s confirmed, reflects the present power dynamic within the organization and suits most parties directly involved.

Qatar, which has emerged as Hamas’ main bankroller, will be satisfied that its preferred candidate remains the paramount leader of the organization. There is a sense of stability in keeping Mishaal in place that is likely to come across as reassuring to many of the group’s friends.

Egypt, too, is likely to be comfortable with the choice. This is extremely important, because for all of Qatar’s considerable financial soft power, Egypt’s hard power – its military presence and control of the border area to Gaza’s south, which is the only means of access not directly dependent on Israel – remains paramount. However financially troubled and domestically chaotic it might be, Egypt is still, and will remain, the primary Arab mover with regard to what does and doesn’t happen in Gaza.

The Gaza-based leaders have apparently gotten a significant boost within the structure of the organization with Hanniyeh’s elevation to deputy.

Turkey, which had emerged as a major player in Hamas’ politics over the past few years, seems to have withdrawn from the current dynamics somewhat. This is probably a temporary development, but it’s an understandable one. Turkey, after all, faces significant challenges from its bordering states, particularly Syria but also Iran and Iraq. And, it is trying to reach a modus vivendi with the Kurds both in Turkey and on its borders. So, just at the moment, it doesn’t seem to have a great deal of time for Hamas. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may be planning to visit Gaza in the near future, but this looks more like a campaign stop than a serious intervention in the politics of the territory.

Other Palestinian groups will also be somewhat reassured by the reconfirmation of Mishaal as the paramount political leader of Hamas, not so much because they like him but more because they know him. The same even may apply to Israel’s attitude – even though they once tried to assassinate Mishaal in Jordan – insofar as he is a known quantity who is considered relatively predictable if not reliable.

Mishaal’s ambitions may not stop with leading Hamas. He seems, in the long run, to have his eyes set on eventual leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization. As long as Hamas retains its current policies, and he remains a leader of that group, this is not possible without destroying the diplomatic and political achievements of the PLO, and its international standing. But one can certainly sense him trying to fudge those issues and maneuver his way into a more centralized national leadership role.

But it’s important not to underestimate the harm this could cause to the Palestinian national movement. Hamas’ policies are strictly inconsistent with those of the PLO, and contradict its treaty obligations. If Hamas joined the PLO with its current policies unchanged, let alone usurped it, the international standing of the PLO – one of the most important achievements of the Palestinian national movement, the value of which no one really questions – would be placed in dire jeopardy.

Palestinians want and need national unity. But the terms are crucial. If such unity in effect means abandoning the positions that underscore the PLO’s standing at the United Nations and other multilateral institutions, and diplomatic relations with well over 100 countries, the price will be exorbitant and disproportionate.

Hamas, led by Mishaal or anybody else, cannot maintain its present policies – towards Israel, the two-state solution, violence, and other key questions that are clearly defined by international law – and simultaneously serve as part of the Palestinian national leadership. The cost of unity on those terms is prohibitive, and Palestinians just cannot afford it.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, Hamas continues to rule in the Islamist manner. That means that most of its policies are not only socially reactionary and oppressive, but flagrantly misogynistic as well. The latest outrage is a new law that will enforce gender segregation in schools for children over the age of nine, and bar men from teaching in girls’ schools. This is merely the latest instance of Hamas’ dual-gesture of pandering to its Islamist base and trying to impose its socially reactionary ‘values’ on the beleaguered Palestinians living under their rule.

So the reappointment of Mishaal may make sense in terms of Hamas’ current power dynamics. But it does absolutely nothing to help the Palestinian people or cause.