Shlomi Eldar reports at AI Monitor that Mahmoud al-Zahar, Hamas’ former foreign minister and a member of the group’s top leadership, has been removed from that body in recent voting. This was the same election process that reaffirmed Khaled Meshal as Hamas’ top leader. According to Eldar, the voting between Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh was neck-and-neck with the former inching out the latter for the top post. Coming in third in the polling was Moussa Abu-Marzouk.
The Israeli TV newscaster concluees that Hamas has opted for a route of pragmatism and moderation (at defined by Hamas) over the more rejectionist, firebrand politics of Zahar:
…Two significant facts emerge…:
• The first is that Meshaal, who only a year ago said he was “weary,” succeeded in ousting his opposition from the political bureau and strengthening the exiled external Hamas, whose leaders had fled Damascus. He was able to do that at the expense of the Gaza leadership which in the past had greater impact on the decision-making process.
• The second is that the movement’s activists endorsed the champions of pragmatism, while pushing aside the hard-liners who were opposed to reconciliation with Fatah and a new popular struggle instead of an armed one.
…Meshaal received a clear mandate to solidify Hamas as a political movement that seeks international recognition. The road is still fraught with obstacles. That being the case, there is one fact that can nonetheless be highlighted: Hamas is no longer the movement that encouraged and even initiated suicide bombings and the killing of civilians. Rather, this is a movement that has come to the realization that terror will bring it nothing but doom. This is what Meshaal understood already five years ago. What is interesting is that even the members of the Majlis al-Shura [Shura Council], who appoint the political bureau, have also come to that realization.
I agree with Eldar that caution is advisable in judging the importance of this development and how it will impact the Islamist movement. But it seems clear that with Egypt exercising strong influence on this election, and its preference for a moderate course, that Hamas will likely move more strongly in such a direction.
Whether this will impact the reconciliation process with Fatah and bring new PA elections is hard to know. Egypt appears to strongly favor this course. But the chemistry between Hamas and Fatah is so toxic that it’s hard to tell where things will go.
It appears that whatever happens with Hamas or the Palestinians, it will have little impact within Israel. That nation lives in the midst of a reverie from which it cannot awake. So no change within the Palestinian national movement will have much impact on Israel.
Where the moderating developments within Hamas could have an impact is on the world stage. The PA has won elevated status in the United Nations and moves toward official statehood could be helped immeasurably by changes within Hamas. If we give up on changes happening within Israel, and similarly discount the chance of any serious moves by the Obama administration, the one political space in which progress can be made is through bodies like the EU and UN.
Just as the anti-apartheid movement gathered momentum slowly and gradually till it became an inexorable force, so the same process of change could begin with this news.
Perhaps for Hamas, all options are on the table.