Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April 2014, 11:39 GMT

A Snapshot of Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khalid Meshaal

Publisher Jamestown Foundation
Publication Date 27 February 2013
Citation / Document Symbol Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 2
Cite as Jamestown Foundation, A Snapshot of Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khalid Meshaal, 27 February 2013, Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 2, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5134a52a2.html [accessed 25 April 2014]
Comments Nathaniel Manni
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

While Ismail Haniyah is the prime minister of Hamas, many have speculated that the chief of the organization's political bureau, Khalid Meshaal, has been the true leader of the group. Meshaal is a charismatic statesman who has maintained top leadership positions while in exile. Meshaal has arguably been the highest-ranking member of Hamas since the assassination of one of Hamas' founders, Abdel Aziz Rantisi in 2004. Meshaal has been unhindered by travel restrictions imposed by Israel that pertain to key Hamas leaders within the Palestinian territories­—because he resides outside of the Palestinian territories—which has allowed him to act as a diplomat, fundraiser and spokesperson for Hamas; meeting foreign dignitaries, speaking at public events and conducting interviews with various media outlets. Being the primary public voice of Hamas explains Meshaal's popularity and illustrates why he has so much influence within the group. While Meshaal has openly stated he believes that violent resistance against Israel is a justified means to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, he has also voiced willingness to make concessions in certain areas to establish Palestinian statehood. [1] 

Background 

Meshaal was born on May, 28, 1956 in Silwad, Jordan—an area now part of the West Bank—where he lived until his family moved to Kuwait shortly after the Six-Day War. While living in Kuwait, Meshaal joined the Muslim Brotherhood at the age of 15. Meshaal later attended Kuwait University where he obtained a Bachelor's degree in Physics. It was during this time that Meshaal began to actively participate in Palestinian politics. Meshaal participated in the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) and went on to found the al-Rabita al-Islamiyya li Talabat Filastin (Islamic League for Palestinian Students) in 1980. Meshaal taught physics at Kuwait University until 1984, when he began pursuing the creation of a Palestinian Islamic movement on a full time basis. Meshaal was one of Hamas' first members and became the head of Hamas' Kuwait branch shortly after its creation. 

During the Gulf War Meshaal fled to Jordan, where he served in Hamas' political bureau and became its chief in 1996. However, Meshaal's time in Jordan was short lived. In 1999 King Abdullah declared Hamas an illegal organization, accusing it of undermining peace negotiations between Jordan and Israel along with accusing the group of participating in illicit activities and had the group's members arrested and subsequently exiled. Meshaal fled to Qatar where he lived until he moved to Damascus in 2001. Following the Syrian uprising, Hamas closed its Damascus headquarters and Meshaal returned to Qatar; a move which many speculate was due to pressure from Turkey and Qatar over Syria's handling of the insurgency (DohaNews.co, December 2011). Meshaal continues to live abroad and will not return to the Palestinian territories because of fear that he will be captured or killed by Israeli forces. 

The Diplomatic Leader 

Meshaal has emphasized the importance of violent resistance combined with political efforts to establish a Palestinian state (Palinfo, November 24, 2012). While he has stated that Hamas would be willing to make certain concessions should Israel reestablish the pre-1967 borders and recognize the right of return, he considers any other outcome unacceptable and has vowed to continue armed struggle until such an end is reached.  In addition, Meshaal has developed close ties with Iran and its proxy Hezbollah. Not only has Meshaal emphasized the similarities between both Hamas and Hezbollah, he has stated that the mission of both organizations are relatively similar, both furthering Iran's policies. As such, he is considered a security threat by the state of Israel and was the target of a botched assassination attempt by the Israeli Mossad in 1997, in retaliation for the 1997 Mahane Yehuda Market Bombings. Since then, although Meshaal has made numerous public appearances, he is wary of future assassination attempts and has made recent statements in which he confirms that he believes he is still a potential target (Press TV, November 15, 2012). 

While Meshaal has recently stated that he may resign from his position as chief of Hamas' political bureau, he has yet to do so and there are rumors that this may be a move by Meshaal intended to secure wider support amongst those involved in the Arab Spring movement who are concerned about Iran's support of the Syrian regime. There are also rumors that this announcement may be the result of disagreements between Meshaal and Hamas leaders, Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud al-Zahar, over the future of the organization. This may revolve around a recent deal Meshaal signed with Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas in which a potential Hamas/PA merger was discussed (Tehran Times, November 20, 2012). Also, despite recent tensions between Iran and Hamas over the Syrian uprising, Iran has continued to provide weapons to the group and has publically supported them in their battle against Israel. This could serve as evidence that Meshaal's statement may be linked to a disagreement over the group's relationship with Iran (al-Akhbar, November 20, 2012). In a recent interview Meshaal acknowledged differences with Iran over Syria and hinted that the relationship between Iran and Hamas has indeed changed because of this disagreement. (Hamas Info, November 23, 2012). 

While Meshaal's future within Hamas is uncertain, he has remained in his position and has continued to speak on behalf of the organization, demonstrated by his recent talk with Abbas over Hamas' support of Abbas' quest to upgrade Palestine's status to Nonmember State within the United Nations (Hamas Info, November 23, 2012). As long as Meshaal remains in Hamas, he will continue to play an important role in the group's operations and his recent statement concerning possible resignation from his post may indicate a behind the scenes power struggle within Hamas over the direction the organization must take to better the chances of achieving Palestinian statehood. 

Nathaniel Manni is an Army veteran, who served 3 years active duty with the 82nd Airborne Division and 4 years in the Massachusetts National Guard. He has been published in the academic journal Global Security Studies and speaks both Russian and French. 

Note

[1] "Resistance and faith, sole way to free Palestine," May 25, 2008, Available at: islam-pure.de/imam/news/news2008/05_2008.htm

Copyright notice: © 2010 The Jamestown Foundation

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