Hamas’s Mashaal reportedly eyes PLO leadership

Hamas’s Mashaal reportedly eyes PLO leadership

Islamist leader is backed by Jordan and Qatar in PLO bid, claims al-Quds al-Arabi

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Jordan's King Abdullah II, right, meets with 
former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, in Amman, Jordan, January 28, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Raad Adayleh)
Jordan's King Abdullah II, right, meets with former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, in Amman, Jordan, January 28, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Raad Adayleh)

Hamas’s political leader is interested in heading the PLO, the highest Palestinian representative body, an Arab daily reported on Tuesday.

Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas’s political bureau — from which he is expected to retire in the near future — is eyeing the Palestine Liberation Organization’s top position, backed by Arab countries such as Jordan and Qatar, the London-based daily al-Quds al-Arabi reported. Hamas is currently not part of the PLO, but may be included as part of a reconciliation agreement signed with Fatah, the PLO’s senior component.

Created by the Arab League in 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization is internationally considered the “sole legitimate representative” of the Palestinian people. Since 1993, Israel too recognizes the PLO as its Palestinian negotiating partner.

According to al-Quds al-Arabi, Mashaal is vying for the position of head of the PLO’s Executive Committee, the organization’s decision-making body, to the concern of Fatah, which has dominated the PLO since 1968. The inclusion of Hamas would grant the Islamic organization the vital international recognition it currently lacks. Mahmoud Abbas has headed the PLO’s executive committee since 2004, succeeding Yasser Arafat.

On Monday, Mashaal met with King Abdullah II of Jordan in Amman and discussed Palestinian reconciliation efforts. Abdullah told Mashaal that direct negotiations with Israel and the creation of a timetable for the two-state solution are “the only way to achieve security and stability in the Middle East.” This was Abdullah’s third meeting with Mashaal within a year.

The PLO leadership is selected by the organization’s legislative body, the Palestinian National Council (PNC), which is supposed to proportionally represent all Palestinians, both within the Palestinian territories and in the diaspora. In 1993, Hamas demanded 40% representation in the PLO, a demand that was rejected. Today, the organization is demanding 60% representation, based on the results of the latest legislative elections held in the Palestinian Authority in 2006.

Under the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, elections for the PNC are meant to take place with proportional representation for all factions.

“If I were Hamas, I wouldn’t wait for that with bated breath,” said Hillel Frisch, an expert in Palestinian politics at Bar-Ilan University’s BESA Center. He told The Times of Israel that despite Monday’s meeting, Jordan is still strongly allied with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who wants to keep Mashaal at bay.

“Today, the entire world considers Mahmoud Abbas to be the representative of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian Authority stole the PLO’s thunder, a bit like the state of Israel did with the Jewish Agency [following the establishment of the state],” Frisch said. 

Al-Quds al-Arabi quoted unnamed Palestinian sources as saying that including Hamas within the PLO will have a moderating effect on the Islamic Movement, forcing it to recognize Israel and previous agreements signed with it.

But Nashat Aqtash, a communications professor at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah, said that recognizing Israel was not a central demand of Palestinians from the Islamic Movement.

“The Palestinian people don’t want Hamas to be ‘moderate.’ That’s an Israeli demand. Instead, they want to make sure that Hamas implements democracy and doesn’t cancel elections once it wins,” he told The Times of Israel.

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