Hamas says Khaled Mashaal won’t seek re-election as head of Islamic militant group
Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal has decided not to seek another term, the movement said Saturday, paving the way for a possible leadership contest at a time when the anti-Israeli Islamic group faces far-reaching decisions on whether to stay the course of militancy or moderate.
However, Hamas suggested Mashaal could be asked to stay on, in what would be a boost for his more pragmatic line.
Mashaal could not be reached for comment Saturday, but his decision not to seek another term as head of Hamas’ political bureau was confirmed in a Hamas statement. Mashaal, who like other top Hamas leaders is based in Syria, has led the 15-member bureau since 1996, or nearly twice as long as permitted under Hamas rules.
Hamas said Saturday the final decision on Mashaal’s future will be left to the 55-member Shura Council, which oversees the political bureau and authorizes key decisions. Mashaal was last reaffirmed in his post in April 2009, and it is not clear if and when the Shura Council would appoint a successor.
Word of Mashaal’s decision comes at a time of change in Hamas’ relationship with its parent movement, the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has scored election victories in Egypt and Tunisia following the pro-democracy protests of the Arab Spring over the past year, and has urged Hamas to moderate.
Brotherhood leaders have encouraged Mashaal to pursue reconciliation with Palestinian rival Fatah, led by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and to abandon violence, according to several Hamas figures.
In discussions within Hamas, Mashaal has praised the pragmatism of the Brotherhood and proposed that Hamas take steps toward becoming a strictly political movement, rather than also maintaining a parallel military wing. This would eventually require a decision to halt attacks on Israel, something Hamas has so far avoided.
In recent months, Mashaal has led attempts to reconcile with Fatah, although he has encountered some opposition from senior Hamas activists in the Gaza Strip, controlled by the Islamists since they seized the territory from Abbas in 2007. The Gaza branch of Hamas would likely lose jobs and influence in any reconciliation deal.