London/Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Today, in the Egyptian capital Cairo, the majority of members of the Hamas Shura Council are meeting to select the leader and representatives of the movement’s political bureau.
The Shura Council is the highest executive authority in the Hamas movement and consists of 60 members. It is convening today in Cairo after a long wait; initial elections were held in the West Bank, Gaza, and abroad in April 2012. Well informed Palestinian sources attributed the reason for the delay in convening the Shura Council to the desire of the majority of its members (between 32 and 35 of them) for Khalid Meshal, the current head of the Hamas political bureau, to remain in office despite announcing his desire to step down. Meshal has insisted that he will not reconsider his position and remain in office unless there was a consensus within the movement for him to do so. However, a source told Asharq Al-Awsat that it is likely Meshal will remain in office for a fifth and final term of four years.
Meshal assumed the presidency of the Hamas political bureau in 1996, succeeding Mousa Abu Marzouk, who was forced to step down after he was arrested in New York on charges of leading a terrorist organization.
Meshal first declared his desire to step down during a Hamas Shura Council meeting in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum in January 2012. Hamas respected his decision, but there was still an overwhelming conviction among the majority of the movement’s leaders and Shura Council members, particularly those based abroad or in the West Bank, that Meshal is the best person suited to this stage. Another source confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the majority of leaders are of the opinion that in light of the current reality, there is no one within Hamas capable of filling the vacuum that Meshal would leave behind if he stands by his decision not to run for a fifth term. The source pointed out that the position of head of the Hamas political bureau carries significant weight and symbolism outside the borders Palestine, where the majority of Palestinian people live as refugees.
Several Palestinian, Arab, and Islamic parties, including Turkey and Qatar, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, have asked Meshal to reconsider his decision. According to sources, there is a prevailing sense that, although Meshal has yet to say so explicitly, he will accept his re-election in the end.
In the Gaza Strip, Meshal has some support, although much weaker than in the West Bank and abroad. His supporters include Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the deposed Gaza government, and a number of others. However, he does not have the support of political bureau members such as Khalil Al-Hayya and Mahmoud Al-Zahar, who have clashed with him politically on more than one occasion.
A Hamas delegation headed by Meshal yesterday met with the head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, Mohamed Raafat Shehata. They discussed a number of key issues, notably Palestinian reconciliation, the truce with Israel, the issue of prisoners in Israeli jails, and the Egyptian media’s recent negative portrayal of Hamas.