Ismail Haniya

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Hamas Political Leader


‘Hamas will stop rockets if Israeli forces cease aggression.’
‘The pressure should be imposed on the Israeli occupier as it is the one carrying out mass killings in Jabalya refugee camp, Bait Hanun and Bait Lahya, in accordance with the US.’
‘Factions have discussed how to supply the Palestinians with force elements to face this aggression and protect the resistance, as it is the only weapon through which the Palestinians can defend themselves, defeat the occupation and attain all their rights.’
"it [Israel] should have responded differently to the democracy expressed by the Palestinian people."


You were born in 1962 in the Shati refugee camp to the west of Gaza city, after your parents fled their home near what is now the Israeli town of Ashkelon during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. You studied Arabic Literature at the Islamic University of Gaza, where you became involved in the Islamist movement. You graduated in 1987, just as a mass uprising, or intifada, against the Israeli occupation erupted in Gaza. You were first detained for a short time for participating in these protests. You suffered subsequent arrests of increasing length because of your activism. Clearly, you have been part of the struggle of the Palestinian people since childhood and you understand the meaning of the conflict from every angle of life.

Following your release in 1992, Israel deported you along with senior Hamas leaders Abdel-Aziz Rantissi, Mahmoud Zahhar and over 400 other activists to Southern Lebanon. You spent more than a year camped at Marj al-Zahour, where the Islamist group received unprecedented media exposure and became known throughout the world. You returned to Gaza in 1993, and after Israel released Sheikh Yassin (Hamas spiritual leader) from prison in 1997, you were appointed his assistant and your increasing prominence led you to become Hamas’s representative to the PA. However, prominence within Hamas proved dangerous.

In September 2003, you and Sheikh Yassin were slightly injured in an Israeli air strike and only six months later, Sheikh Yassin was killed by Israeli helicopter gunships as he exited a mosque. For protection, Hamas decided to keep the name of its new leader in Gaza secret. But Palestinian sources said you were appointed to the group's "collective leadership" with Mahmoud Zahhar and Sayyid al-Sayyam.

Following the elections on January 26, 2006 in which Hamas won a majority of the seats, you became Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority. You attempted to form a new coalition government, but negotiations failed and you were forced to assemble a cabinet comprised mostly of your own party. Without a government, violence between Hamas and Fatah broke out leading to a Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. Salam Fayyad was appointed as the new PM of the Palestinian Authority, while you became PM of Hamas-ruled Gaza.

At the top of your agenda is the issue of a divided Palestine, which is clearly not in the Palestinian public’s interest, but Hamas was fairly (democratically) elected to run the country, and you feel that it is ridiculous to make further concessions to Fatah and the outside world because they did not like the results of the election. You feel that you have been more than reasonable in trying to find a solution for a unity government, illustrated by the fact that despite the scale of Hamas’s election victory, it quickly approached Fatah with an offer to form a coalition. Hamas insiders say they were drawn to the notion because joining forces would allow Hamas to concentrate on social concerns like education and health care while leaving Fatah to deal with issues like Israel. This power sharing dynamic would have allowed Hamas to work towards its aims as a grassroots movement, implementing government reforms and focusing on social and humanitarian activities. As a result of this divide, Hamas is characterized as a rogue group and denied aid that the Western-backed Fatah-controlled PA receives. Furthermore, people cannot cross into the West Bank easily for any reason, be it to work or to just visit family. Your primary concern is to improve the lives of Gazans, which you feel would be best achieved by a united Palestinian state and ending the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Gaza needs money and goods to repair its homes and infrastructure, but it also needs jobs to ease its 40% unemployment rate, which could be helped by foreign aid and investment as well as allowing people to move in and out of Gaza for work.

As a resistance movement, Hamas has always aligned itself with the Arab world and different Islamic organizations for funding and moral support, including Iran, Palestinian expatriates, and private benefactors in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. However, various sources, among them United Press International and L'Humanité have highlighted that Hamas' early growth had been supported by the Israeli Mossad as a "counterbalance to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)." Created in 1987 and connected to the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt, Hamas's charter calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, as well as of any secular Palestinian government that may be set up. However, Hamas omitted its explicit call for the destruction of Israel from its election manifesto, and has not acted on that statement even since it gained control of Gaza, and you’ve gone as far as to write in a letter to US President Bush that “we are so concerned about stability and security in the area that we don’t mind having a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders and offering a truce for many years.” Even after the 2006 elections, Israel has refused to deal with Hamas, calling it a terrorist organization a label which you repudiate based on the fact that Hamas is a resistance movement fighting an occupation and Hamas has never carried out an attack outside of historical Palestine. At the same time, rockets continue to be fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip presumably by members of Hamas or its supporters.

Furthermore, Israel, The US, The European Union as well as other Western and Arab states suspended all foreign aid to Palestine after the election. Egypt closed its border crossings and Israel imposed a brutal blockade on Gaza that continues today, although the outrage spurred by the 2008-09 Gaza War, after which Israel was criticized for indiscriminately destroying civilian infrastructure and killing 1,300 Gazans (mostly civilians), coupled with the May 2010 Flotilla massacre, in which the IDF killed 9 peace activists aboard a ship attempting to deliver aid to Gaza, brought Israel’s failing policies toward Gaza into focus for the international community. Many leaders, including the US President, are now calling for an end to the blockade, and Egypt has reopened its Gaza border. At least one member of the Quartet, Russia, is openly willing to recognize and work with Hamas, and the rest of the Quartet membership is at least in contact with Hamas leadership.

You are considered a moderate in Hamas’s ranks whose position on the list was intended to appeal to mainstream Palestinian voters. You are open to dialogue with Israel under the precondition that Israel recognizes Palestinian rights. Any agreement that you reach will be more supported by the Palestinian people because of your background, a background that demonstrates your dedication to the cause and your unwillingness to compromise in this existential conflict unless it is for a better future. Now that you are the top leader of Hamas it appears that you'll lead a process of Hamas softening its stance (or at least its rhetoric) with regard to Israel. Nobody expects Israel's regard for Hamas to change, but many will watch carefully to see if Hamas' international profile changes, and whether this apparent moderation in stance will increase the chances of long-term reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

In 2017, you were elected to succeed Khaled Meshaal as the Political Leader of Hamas. In contrast with Mr. Meshaal, you have been based in Gaza, and all indications are that you plan to spend a healthy portion of your time there, rather than basing yourself solely in Doha, Qatar as Khaled Meshaal did. Such plans, however, are contingent on the cooperation of Egypt in allowing you free transit through their air space. and this in turn may embolden Egypt to demand a political price from you in terms of your stance vis-a-vis Qatar, Turkey or Egypt itself. In any case, it appears that your election as the Head of Hamas in 2017, tied to the charter revision put in place at the same time, indicates a potential moderation in Hamas' stance.


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