June 11, 2006


Who's running Hamas? (Mohamad Bazzi, 6/11/06, Newsday)

Most day-to-day decisions within Hamas are made by its political bureau, which has eight to 10 members who mainly live in exile in Syria. The bureau is chaired by Khaled Mashaal, who is the group's supreme political leader. Hamas also has a Shura Council, an internal parliament made up of about 50 members who live inside and outside the Palestinian territories.

The council has final say on major policy moves. But the council generally cannot meet in one place at one time because many of its members are unable to travel into the Palestinian territories — the West Bank and Gaza — for fear of assassination. So the leadership consults via e-mails, faxes, cellphones and coded messages.

The political bureau in Syria draws its strength from being Hamas' main fundraising arm and managing relations with Arab and Muslim countries. Some Arab diplomats and officials say that makes Mashaal and his inner circle more pragmatic than the Hamas leadership within the territories. But this also could mean that splits could emerge between the internal and external leaders. [...]

Hamas' foreign protectors help it maintain its hard-line positions. The Syrian regime has allowed leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian groups that reject peace with Israel to operate from Damascus for two decades. In turn, Hamas' election victory bolstered Syrian President Bashar Assad in his own confrontation with the United States.

In recent years, Hamas has developed close ties with Iran, also at odds with Washington. Last month, Iran pledged to make up for $50 million in tax revenues Israel withheld after Hamas took control of the Palestinian government.

"If Hamas leaders are going to take a more pragmatic approach, they must distance themselves from Syria and Iran," said Kabalan, the political scientist. "For their own reasons, Syria and Iran are going to urge Hamas to continue its confrontation with the West."

The Arab diplomat said Mashaal could be the only Hamas leader with enough clout to break the impasse. He rose to prominence in 1997, and became the group's top leader in 2004, after Israel killed Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin and his successor, Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi.

Mashaal could rely less on Syria and Iran, the diplomat said, and continue contacts with Egypt. With access to top American and Israeli officials, Egypt has been a key mediator among Palestinian factions.

"Within Hamas, Mashaal could try to sell a long-term truce with Israel by saying that it's a tactical move and not an ideological shift," the diplomat said. "He could say, 'We won't officially end armed resistance, but we'll put it on hold. And we'll resume negotiations by proxy.' ... It's going to be a difficult sell to both sides, but Mashaal has to start somehow."

Iran will be only too happy to sell them out as part of normalizing relations with the West. Meanwhile, all it ought to take is a word in Assad's ear to get him to dump them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 11, 2006 8:14 AM

There are three openings at Gitmo. Get 'em before the price goes up.

Posted by: erp at June 11, 2006 9:33 AM

I see a referendum in the future, they don't live in "Palestine" and shouldn't be able to rule from afar.

Cowards, they are.

Abbas could start really doing a number on Hamas if he wanted to.

Posted by: Sandy P at June 11, 2006 10:42 AM