A Hamas official in the Egyptian capital confirmed the decision, stating only “Meshal was reelected.” He declined to add anything further regarding the manner in which the decision was made.
Meshal succeeded Mousa Abu Marzouk as president of the political bureau in 2006, but has since stated that he does not wish to continue the role. Meshal first declared his intention to step down during a meeting of the organization’s Shura Council in Khartoum in January 2012.
Prior to Meshal’s reelection, many within Hamas expressed a desire to see him continue in the position. Before the Shura Council made the decision late on Monday night, a source told Asharq Al-Awsat that some members within the Hamas leadership do not feel that Meshal can be adequately replaced.
Paola Caridi, a journalist with extensive experience of Palestinian issues and author of a book on Hamas, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Meshal’s reelection was not unexpected, especially after the latest developments. I would consider it a typical decision in a period of transition. Meshal will push Hamas along the path it followed in the last years, regarding the ongoing, unending reconciliation process with Fatah.”
She added that the decision to keep Meshal’s in place was driven in part by the situation in Gaza: “In terms of security, it is not . . . “wise” to have the chief of the political bureau confined in the Gaza Strip, as would happen if the Shura council would choose Ismail Haniyeh. Meshal (and Moussa Abu Marzouq) have wider freedom of movement, and they both have better relations with countries like Qatar and Egypt.”
Some analysts also say that there was regional pressure on Meshal to accept a fifth term in office, with Turkey, Qatar and Egypt backing his leadership of Hamas.
“The victory of Meshal was predicted for pressures either from Qatar, Turkey and Egypt, or from the interior of Hamas, its political bureau and Shura council in particular,” Ibrahim el-Darawy, head of the Palestinian Center for political studies in Cairo told China’s Xinhau news agency.
The nature of Meshal’s ties with Iran—believed to have sponsored Hamas in the past—are vague. Meshal distanced himself from the Iranian backed Syrian regime last year when he left the capital Damascus after living there for 11 years. As a result, Hamas’ offices there were shut down.
“His policy on Syria and on Arab Islamism-in-power [were] the most important issue,” says Caridi, adding that “Meshal and [the] Hamas political bureau decided to rescind the movement’s tactical alliance with Bashar Al-Assad’s regime a year ago, signaling a further distance from Tehran and stronger relations with Qatar, and then Egypt.”
Meshal is seen as an important actor in regional politics, and is considered by some to be a relative moderate. Edward Peck, a former US ambassador to Iraq, described Meshal as “moderate in many senses,” after meeting with him and other Hamas leaders in 2006.
In a 2009 interview, Meshal said “Hamas and other Palestinian groups are ready to cooperate with any American, international or regional effort to find a just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, to end the Israeli occupation and to grant the Palestinian people their right of self-determination.”
In December last year he played a role in negotiating the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, and has also sought to mend fences within the fractured Palestinian movement. However, his attempts to broker a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah were foiled by hardliners within both organizations.
However, despite his conciliatory stance on many issues, some analysts expect Meshal to seek a larger role for both himself and his organization within Palestinian politics.
Caridi conlcuded, “Regarding the reconciliation process, Meshal’s goal is the PLO, as he underlined also in the most recent interview. He is not interested in leading the Palestinian Authority. For many years, Hamas has been interested in being part of a reformed PLO, and Meshal is interested in leading the organization.”