"By the time this article appears, the reports that Khalid Mish'al has been unanimously reelected as head of Hamas's Politburo for the fourth time are likely to have been confirmed," writes Hani al-Masri in Tuesday's left-leaning Lebanese daily as-Safir.
After a long delay that lasted for around a year, the matter has finally been settled.
Throughout the past year, Hamas's Shura [Supreme Consultative] Council was supposed to have been convened. But this did not happen for various reasons according to the movement's spokesmen – such as the difficulty of holding Hamas elections on the West Bank or in [Israeli] prisons, or after losing the movement’s foothold in Syria which used to represent a secure base where it enjoyed freedom of movement and could hold meetings whenever it wanted. In fact, more than one Hamas leading figure has confirmed to me privately that one of the reasons preventing the Shura council from the meeting was that no country would allow it to be held on its soil, or the absence of any secure venue for such a meeting.
Moreover, another reason for the delay stemmed from the complications resulting from new internal electoral mechanisms that allow for appeals against the results. Many of those who failed appealed the results and many such appeals were accepted. This led to reelections in some cases.
Despite their importance, all these reasons are not enough on their own to explain this delay. The more important reasons also included Khalid Mish'al's announcement that he does not wish to run in the elections, his subsequent change of mind came after the warm welcome he received from Hamas and the people in Gaza, and the intervention of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as regional and Arab parties (Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar) in his favor. There was also more than one candidate for the post of whom [Deputy Politburo head] Musa Abu-Marzouq and [Gaza Hamas PM] Ismail Hanniyeh are known.
Mish'al’s reelection is significant for the internal Palestinian scene because he is open to [Hamas/Fateh] reconciliation. At the Arab, regional, and international levels, the significance of his reelection stems from the fact that he advocates political moderation for Hamas. And for Hamas itself, the importance of presence stems from the fact that none of his competitors could move beyond Hamas’s position as an organization besieged in Gaza at the time when it aspires to lead the Palestinians.
We should not ignore the fact that the unprecedented internal disagreements that came to the fore after the [February 2012] 'Doha Declaration' [which offered PA President Abbas the post of interim Palestinian PM] and that was signed by Mish'al without referring back to the movement's institutions, played a tangible role in delaying the Shura Council meeting. The Doha Declaration was publicly opposed by a number of Hamas leaders, most prominently [Gaza-based former FM] Mahmoud az-Zahar. The movement's Politburo then imposed changes to the declaration that effectively rendered it incapable of being implemented, despite subsequent attempts to revive it earlier this year when Fateh and Hamas agreed on a timetable for implementing the agreement.
It is impossible to understand what is going on in Hamas without taking the effects of the Arab revolutions, the rise of political Islam, and the regional and international changes into account, against the background of a relative retreat in the U.S.'s role and the relative advance in the roles played by Turkey, Iran, and Europe.
In my view, the irony stems from the fact that Hamas has been the victim of these revolutions and changes rather than a beneficiary as it had at first expected. So far at least, Hamas has lost Syria and to some extent Iran,Hizbollah, and what used to be referred to as the axis of resistance. And it has won Qatar, Tunisia, and Egypt.
It is one of fate's ironies that Hamas's relations with Egypt – which is ruled by an organization of which Hamas is an extension – are suffering from unprecedented difficulties. These have manifested themselves in the destruction of the tunnels [connecting Gaza to Sinai] and in the wide-scale Egyptian [opposition-led] political and media campaign against Hamas. In fact, barely a week passes without a new charge being leveled against Hamas regarding its responsibility for attacks or crimes designed to help the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt against Husni Mubarak's regime and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF], and latter aiding the new Egyptian president and his Brotherhood once in power. This unfair campaign has reached the point of cases being brought against Hamas in court. One such case aims to secure a court ruling that would ban Hamas members and leaders from visiting Egypt.
The ugly nature of this campaign stems from the fact that it burdens Hamas with responsibility for the acts of the new regime in Egypt simply because it is an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood. It also stems from the fact that the campaign does not distinguish between Hamas and the Palestinians.
Nor does it distinguish between facts and exaggerations. What is real is that there is an inter-Palestinian split and that the tunnels that are necessary for Gaza given the [Israeli] siege, also facilitate all kinds of smuggling from and into the Gaza Strip – especially weapons-- that helps the salafi jihadi groups and anyone who wishes to undermine Egypt's security in light of its difficult domestic conditions as well as in Sinai and the Gaza Strip.
The exaggerations run contrary to the facts and portray Hamas as a legendary organization that is responsible for all the evils from which Egypt is suffering today; a mythical creature that can invoke its mighty powers to help President Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood – which has over one million members (according to the assessments made in the last days of Husni Mubarak's regime) let alone its current membership after it has come to power via the ballot box.
Nor would the picture be complete without pointing to the effects of the ongoing regional revolutions and developments on Hamas that have left the movement off balance. The transfer of its leadership from Damascus to Qatar and Egypt is not just a geographical move, and Hamas has had to pay an enormous political cost as a result. There are those in Hamas who understand this, and are preparing themselves to pay the political price for the rise of political Islam and its coming to power in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as its growing influence in the Arab remaining countries, both those that have witnessed revolutions and those that have not. As a result, the forces of political Islam need the West's and especially the U.S.’s support, in coming to power and in maintaining their hold on it.
There are those in Hamas who understand the need to help the Muslim Brotherhood strike a deal with the West, with all the additional moderation that this will impose on Hamas in the hope of winning Arab and international legitimacy. But there are also those who believe that the rise of political Islam means that it should adopt a harder line and cling more strictly to its current position-- at the very least.
Hamas is being asked to veer towards moderation with growing speed in order to be accepted as a major Palestinian player, or even as the new leadership of the Palestinians. And this requires it to accept the International Quartet's preconditions, including recognizing Israel, rejecting and fighting resistance [to Israel], and a commitment to all exiting Palestinian/Israeli agreements.
Should this occur, it would mean that Hamas has shed its own skin and abandoned its resistance which was the main instrument for its rise, thus turning into a new Hamas. It would mean that Hamas has opted to pursue the path of the PA, the PLO, and leadership rather than its own aims, Palestinian rights, resistance, and ideology. And all this would be in return for no more than recognition of it and its role. After all, what is on offer for Hamas is its acceptance as a partner in the PLO and in the PA and possibly as the future leadership of the Palestinians if it can prove that it is more capable than Fateh in ensuring the implementation of agreements [with Israel].
As for the Palestinians’ national aims, these will remain hostage to the success or failure of the efforts to revive the so-called 'peace process.' But even if life were to return to this process it would only mean that the status quo will continue, or that one or another Israeli formula for a solution will be implemented.
Based on the above, we may understand why Hamas has accepted that the head of a national accord government in the transitional phase should be the head of its competitor Fateh [PA President Abbas] despite the fact that Fateh is committed to the agreements with Israel and the International Quartet's preconditions, and despite the fact that he [Abbas] wagers on the revival of negotiations.
Khalid Mish'al’s reelection goes beyond the mere competition between him and Abu-Marzouq, Hanniyeh, and others. It is a struggle and a search for a new position for Hamas in the new phase.
"There is no way out for Hamas from its predicament, or for Fateh from its predicament, or any way out of the overall Palestinian predicament except via national unity on the basis of a national program and genuine partnership," concludes Masri.