Yehya al-Sinwar, the head of the Palestinian Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, has adopted a political rhetoric that advocates reconciliation. This is a language that the Palestinian public is not used to hearing from Hamas leaderships. Many have started to look to him as the leader who will change the movement’s image.
Despite the hierarchical structure of Hamas and several members occupying higher posts than him, Sinwar’s charisma, manner in which he carries out his work and surprising statements have garnered him local, Israeli and regional attention.
It can be said that his reputation preceded him before he was released from Gaza prison and assumed the command of the Hamas movement in the coastal strip. Hamas has gone so far as to assure its followers that his election as Gaza chief will not alter the movement’s policy.
It wanted to assure that the military man, who is few on words and who Israel labels the “sheikh of murderers,” will not drag the movement into new rounds of internal and external violence.
Eventually however, it became clear that Sinwar is leading Hamas in another direction – one of regional and internal reconciliation – by adopting a balanced approach and rhetoric.
Prior to assuming his current post, he had voiced his regret over the years of Palestinian division, adding that he was willing to cater to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ concerns. He even told some Gaza youths that he will “break the neck of anyone who obstructs the reconciliation.” He also added that he was ready to meet the demands of Abbas’ Palestinian Authority and that he was ready to “run after” Fatah in pursuit of reconciliation.
Before this, Hamas had often adopted an occasionally arrogant approach. It made accusations and threats that did not serve reconciliation efforts.
Political activist Salim al-Hindi, who had met Sinwar, said that he has a lot of charisma.
“He is very honest and persuasive. He answers all questions and does not leave room for doubt,” he continued.
Many look at him as the leader who will help Gaza out of its crisis, he added.
Sinwar, who previously shied away from media appearances, has in a short period of time met two youth groups.
Yasmine Abou Harb was present at one of those meets. She described him as being “more flexible than another Hamas leader.”
“He led the movement towards reconciliation with Fatah and to restoring its ties with different countries,” she noted.
Saleh Hmeid agreed with her, adding that Sinwar’s stances demonstrate that he has a real national vision and that he prefers reconciliation to division.
The public was surprised when Sinwar said that he wants Abbas to become a strong president. He also called on women to become involved in political life.
This stands in stark contrast with the image painted by Israel of a man with a bloody and violent past. It had warned against Sinwar assuming Hamas’ leadership once he was freed from prison.
Israel had indeed succeeded in raising these concerns. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz warned that it would only be a matter of time before a new confrontation erupts between Israel and Hamas due to Sinwar’s approach.
These concerns were heightened with Sinwar being listed as a terrorist by the United States.
Whether or not Israel had exaggerated in its bloody depiction of Sinwar, it appears that he would not hesitate to resort to violence in the name of the nation. There are records of him killing four Israeli collaborators.
As his star continues to rise, observers insist that Sinwar is part of the change and not the actual change itself.
Political analyst Mustafa Ibrahim said: “He has major influence within Hamas, but he is not leading a complete change in its policy.”
“He is influential and has contributed to the movement taking decisions since the reconciliation was signed …. but these moves are not isolated from Hamas’ work as a whole, which is structured and based on a Shura Council,” he added.
“One person alone cannot change the movement’s course,” he stressed.