Gaza chief Haniyeh rises in the ranks to become Hamas chairman

Elections take place days after Hamas issues so-called 'softer' charter. Palestinian Authority official asks to see meaningful steps towards mending split.

Hamas elects Haniyeh as new political chief (credit: REUTERS)
Gaza-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was elected chairman of the Hamas Politburo on Saturday, outgoing Politburo Chairman Khaled Mashaal said.
“It is a honor for me to inform our people, our movement’s members, and our nation... of the election of the brother Abu al-Abid Ismail Haniyeh,” Mashaal said in a video recording posted on social media, referring to Haniyeh by his kunya name.
“I put all of my trust in Abu al-Abid.”
Haniyeh, 54, who hails from the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, was widely expected to be the next top Hamas leader.
The announcement of Haniyeh’s election coincided with the conclusion of internal Hamas leadership elections, which had been going on for the past several months.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Haniyeh’s election “reaffirms that Hamas is strong... and believes in democracy and respects its results.”
As chairman of the politburo, Haniyeh will have a variety of responsibilities including maintaining the movement’s foreign contacts.
While he currently lives in Shati, he may relocate abroad for his new post.
Haniyeh, who has been deeply involved in Hamas and Palestinian politics for decades, is close to the Hamas leadership in both the Strip and the Palestinian diaspora.
He previously served as assistant to Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas liaison to the Palestinian Authority, PA prime minister, Hamas Gaza chief and deputy Politburo chairman.
Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in the Gaza Strip, told The Jerusalem Post that Haniyeh’s elevation indicates a continuation of Mashaal’s policies.
“I think his election means that he will follow in the footsteps of Khaled Mashaal in the next four years,” Abusada said. “Both Haniyeh and Mashaal belong to the same moderate camp in Hamas, which wants to strengthen relations with the so-called Sunni-Arab moderate camp and the international community.”
Haniyeh’s election came less than a week after Hamas released a new political document in an effort to improve its relations with the region and the world.
The document accepts a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines, but rejects recognition of Israel and the Oslo Accords, embraces violent confrontation and calls for “the full and complete liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea.”
Haniyeh told reporters that the new document “reflects a major development” in Hamas, but also “clings to [Hamas’s] strategy and fundamentals.”
Israel has said the document is an “attempt to fool the world.”
PLO Executive Committee Member Wasel Abu Yousef told the Post that the Palestinian leadership hopes Haniyeh’s election will hasten the end of the division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“We want to see Haniyeh take serious steps to ending the split,” Abu Yousef said, adding, “It is not clear if he [Haniyeh] will take such steps.”
Hamas and Fatah, which dominate the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, respectively, have been at increased loggerheads over the past several weeks. Hamas has been blaming the Fatah-dominated PA for neglecting Gaza, whereas Fatah has been accusing Hamas of preventing the PA from operating in the Strip.
With tensions rising between the two parties, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who also leads Fatah, has started to undertake measures to pressure Hamas, such as stopping payments for electricity Israel provides to Gaza.
It is unclear when Haniyeh will officially assume his new role. Mashaal reportedly will remain in a leadership position in Hamas, serving as a member of the Shura council, the equivalent of Hamas’s parliament.