Khaled Mashaal told the Palestinian Hamas movement’s ruling council that he does not plan to run again for its leadership, according to a statement from the body, which asked him to reconsider his decision.
Mashaal, who lives in Damascus, informed the policy-making Shura Council that he won’t be a candidate in internal elections for the Hamas leadership, the panel said its statement, e-mailed today from the Gaza Strip.
Dropping out of the leadership of the militant Islamic organization may leave a vacuum in Hamas, which rules Gaza, at a time that Mashaal has been the key negotiator in efforts to reunite with the secular Fatah party, which controls the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank. The two sides split in 2007 when Hamas ousted Fatah from Gaza. Hamas won legislative elections the previous year.
“The leaders and symbols of the movement wish Mr. Mashaal to reverse his position and leave the issue to the Shura Council of the movement to evaluate the highest interest of the movement,” Hamas said in a statement. The decision “is an affair that is decided by the movement’s establishments and by him personally.”
Hamas, which is regarded as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union, has opposed peace talks with Israel and has been dedicated to the Jewish state’s destruction since the organization’s founding in 1987. Ismail Haniyeh, the former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, is the most senior Hamas leader in Gaza.
“Hamas may want to have its major politburo in Gaza instead of having it in Damascus or any other Arab country, because Hamas has succeeded in establishing a very good infrastructure in Gaza in terms of security and economy,” said Naji Shurab, a political scientist at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University. “Haniyeh has a good chance to succeed Mashaal.”
Mashaal could not immediately be reached for comment. Azzam al Ahmed, head of the Fatah delegation that has been negotiating with Hamas said Mashaal’s departure should not interfere with reconciliation efforts.
“We will deal with whomever the movement chooses,” he said in a telephone interview from Moscow where he was traveling with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “Let’s wait and see.”
Haniyeh called yesterday for accelerated reconciliation talks with Fatah in response to Israel’s arrest of a senior member of the movement, Aziz Dweik, and said that “dark days” await Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to halt cooperation with the Palestinian Authority if it moves ahead with plans to reunite with Hamas. A plan signed by Mashaal and Abbas in Cairo last May calls for new Palestinian elections within a year in which Hamas would participate.