Former Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, who has not held an official leadership position in the organization for years, will return to serve as the director of its diaspora under his successor Ismail Haniyeh, official Hamas media announced on Monday.
Hamas’s internal organization is divided into four main areas: Gaza, the West Bank, Israeli prisons, and the diaspora. Mashaal, who currently lives in Qatar, is well-connected with Hamas’s key patrons in Doha and Ankara, positioning him well to serve as the movement’s envoy abroad.
Mashaal had reportedly launched a leadership struggle against Haniyeh for the top spot in the terror group during its elections, which were held secretly over the past two months.
The elections occur once every four years and appoint members at every level in the terror group’s hierarchy: from local leaders in Gaza and the West Bank to the Shura Council, a quasi-legislative branch.
The last Hamas internal vote was conducted in 2017. Haniyeh took the top spot at the time, replacing Mashaal, who had held the post since 1996. Haniyeh had previously served as Hamas’s Gaza chief.
The announcement that Mashaal is to serve as Hamas’s second-in-command, and as head of its diaspora division, makes it more likely that Haniyeh — with no obvious challenger in sight — will serve another four-year term as chief of the organization’s political bureau.
Unlike Fatah elections, which are festive events, drawing large crowds to public polling places, the Hamas vote is held in secret. The full results are expected to be released later in April.
Hamas has so far announced results for its political bureau elections, which mostly returned old veterans — but also saw the first woman elected to Hamas’s highest decision-making body, Jamila al-Shanti.
Al-Shanti, a member of the defunct Palestinian legislature, is the widow of assassinated Hamas leader Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi, who was killed by Israel during the Second Intifada.
“This confirms the Hamas movement’s respect for Palestinian women, their struggle, heroism, and sacrifices,” senior Hamas official Suheil al-Hindi told Palestinian media outlet Dunya al-Watan.
Hamas also reelected Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar — but not without a stormy electoral battle that led to several recounts. Sinwar eventually defeated his challenger, longtime Hamas activist Nizar Awadallah, by a slim margin, after a multi-day voting process by senior Hamas officials.