Khaled Meshaal

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Hamas Senior Political Leader

"(Our) entire nation is targeted. It should fight like the (West Bank) towns of Rafah and Jenin as well as Fallujah (in Iraq) and it will triumph over the Zionists and America.”
“We do not target civilians and we do not go out to kill civilians. But the practices of the Zionist enemy push the people to fight with every form of conflict.”
"Hamas changed a lot and great efforts have been made to conform with the realistic positions of Palestinians and Arabs. When Hamas says with other Palestinians forces that we demand for a Palestinian country as the border was back in 1967. Isn't this a development change?"

Personal Background
You were born in 1956 in the West Bank, but in 1967 you moved with your family to Kuwait where you studied physics at Kuwait University and stayed until the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. At the young age of 15, you had already joined the Muslim Brotherhood and while at university you started an Islamic Student Group. While in Kuwait, you became the head of Hamas in Kuwait and when you moved to Jordan you became the head of Hamas in Jordan. You were imprisoned in and then expelled from Jordan; you eventually took your family to Qatar, where you left them while you moved to Syria, where you still reside.

Hamas in Jordan
After Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, you moved to Jordan, where Palestinians make up some 60% of the population. You took over the operation of a Hamas bureau in the capital, Amman, where you were in charge of international fundraising for Hamas. You also expanded the group's foreign relations with countries such as Iran and Syria. In 1997, Israeli agents tried to kill you. The operation was authorized by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which described you as the "pre-eminent figure in Hamas and responsible for the murder of innocent Israeli civilians." Israeli Mossad agents disguised as Canadian tourists injected poison into your ear but you were rushed to hospital before it took hold. Your life was saved by King Hussein of Jordan; he demanded the Israeli Government hand over the antidote. The agents were arrested and exchanged for an Israeli apology and the release of Sheikh Yassin (the former Hamas Leader who was later assassinated by the Israelis in 2004) and 19 other prisoners.

As Leader of Hamas...
King Hussein's son and successor King Abdullah in Jordan closed down the Hamas office and you were briefly imprisoned, after which you went to Qatar and then Syria, where you took over the Damascus operation of Hamas. You believe that ‘Israel misunderstands the essence of resistance, wrongly believing it is dependent on organized leadership.’ In fact you say "it is a spirit that pervades among our people with their different factions. In short, the fall of our leaders strengthens our movement rather than weakens it." At another point you said that "terrorism and violence has always been the declared policy of the Zionist state, and what (Israeli prime Minister) Sharon is doing is an extension of what has been the case since the establishment of that state." You believe that the masses in the Arab streets provide a better answer to the Israeli ‘problem’ than those Arab leaders still clinging to outmoded thinking. Recently, you have claimed that there can be a settlement that involves Israel receding to its pre-1967 boundaries. This is a great compromise that you have made. "Negotiations, politics, they have proved futile for our cause. They have led to the squandering of our national rights through concessions and compromises in one deal after another," you said. You also wrote that, ‘(w)hether at the negotiating table or on the battlefield US interference has consistently tipped the balance in favor. It is a major battle and our enemy is not only Israel but the US. To go into this battle we have to find a partner to stand by the Palestinians. This requires the involvement of all Arabs and Muslims. We all know, after all, that the Israeli-American project targets not just the Palestinians but regimes and peoples across the Arab and Muslim world." You have said that the Hamas response to Israel's deadly missile strike against Sheikh Yassin will be confined to Israel and the Palestinian territories. "One of our priorities is to respond to Sharon's crime. We will not say what kind of response but I say that our resistance will be confined to fighting the Zionist occupation on Palestinian land."

Corporal Gilad Shalit Affair
You have played a central role in the Corporal Gilad Shalit Affair, not necessarily by your own choosing however. On June 25th, 2006 the military wing of Hamas abducted/captured an Israeli soldier. Many (including the Israelis) believe that you had a direct role in the decision to take a soldier, giving you a central role in the ultimate resolution of the situation.

Gaza-West Bank Split
In Western-backed 2006 elections, to the surprise and outrage of the US and Israel, Hamas won an overwhelming parliamentary majority. Many Western powers, especially the US and Israel, rejected the election results, halting aid and withholding taxes collected by the Palestinian Authority in an attempt to force Hamas to recognize Israel. Negotiations between Hamas and Fatah led to an attempted unity government, however this lasted only a few months before Palestine’s continued international isolation, factional differences, and violent clashes capsized peace attempts, culminating in Hamas’s violent seizure of the Gaza Strip. Israel responded with a crippling blockade on Gaza, denying aid, civilian goods, and human passage into or out of the territory, a staggering blow to an already impoverished population. However, this has not ended rocket attacks on Israel or loosened Hamas’s hold on the territory as Israel had hoped.

In June 2008, Israel and Hamas declared a six-month truce on the grounds that Hamas would stop its own rockets as well as those of other armed groups from entering Israel if Israel would ease its blockade. Hamas was never entirely successful in halting all attacks on Israel, which Israel noted in its continued isolation of Gaza.

The relationship between you and Ismail Haniya has lent itself to much speculation. You cannot enter the Palestinian Territories for fear of Israeli retaliation (either assassination or imprisonment); and although you are head of Hamas, it is unclear what the power relationship between you and Haniya is, as he is actually in power on the ground. You are very frustrated, however, that many countries have refused to recognize Hamas after the win in a clearly democratic election. You are also frustrated with Israel's insistence to negotiate with Fatah and leave out Hamas completely, especially after you stated that Hamas could live with Israel if it ended the occupation and withdrew to pre-1967 boundaries.

Gaza War and After

After the shaky truce expired in December 2008, rocket attacks on Israeli border towns dramatically increased. On December 27, Israel began an aggressive air campaign all over Gaza and on January 3, 2009, escalated its offensive to a ground war. Gazan civilian infrastructure as well as Hamas military strongholds were decimated, and by the time a cease-fire was reached on January 18, 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died.

An independent investigation was conducted by the UN and the Goldstone Report was subsequently issued, concluding that both sides had committed war crimes, although to Israel’s outrage and denial, Israel’s faults were substantially more numerous and egregious.

Throughout the spring and summer of 2009, you focused your efforts on maintaining a cease-fire with Israel and negotiating the exchange of Gilad Shalit for a long list of Palestinian prisoners, although this deal seems to have stagnated. Perhaps optimistic about changes in US attitudes after the end of the Bush Administration, you reached out to President Obama, reiterating your willingness to accept Israel pre-1967 lines and a 10-year truce, however this has largely fallen on deaf ears as the Obama Administration prefers working with Fatah, continuing to classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Winds of Change?

Continued—and more effective—suspension of rocket coupled with deteriorating worldview of Israel has worked to Hamas’s favor, prompting stronger international criticism of Israel’s actions and policies. On January 19, 2010, senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was targeted by assassins with stolen European identities and passports. The nature of the crime and the suspects’ identities lay the smoking gun in Israeli hands, although Israeli officials neither confirm nor deny responsibility. Your party blamed Israel entirely and vowed to seek revenge.

On May 31, 2010 Israeli commandos attacked an aid flotilla full of pro-Gaza activists who were attempting to deliver goods and break the blockade, killing nine activists and injuring many more, detaining the ships’ passengers, and seizing the ships’ cargo. International outrage ensued and Israel quickly responded with the release of the activists and forwarding of the confiscated aid to Gaza. Still, Gaza’s plight was brought to the forefront of discussion and many world leaders called for an end to the blockade and declared Israel’s Gaza policies failed. World leaders seem much more willing to engage Hamas in negotiations, or at least reconsider their policies toward your party, most notably Russia (and much more quietly other Quartet members).

In 2017, Ismail Haniya succeeded you as the Political Leader of Hamas. In contrast with you, he has been based in Gaza, and all indications are that he plans to spend a healthy portion of his time there (you were only in Gaza twice during your tenure as Hamas Chief) rather than basing himself solely in Doha, Qatar as you did. Such plans, however, are contingent on the cooperation of Egypt in allowing him free transit through their air space. and this in turn may embolden Egypt to demand a political price from him in terms of his stance vis-a-vis Qatar, Turkey or Egypt itself. In any case, Haniya's election as the Head of Hamas in 2017 is surely tied to the charter revision put in place at the same time, and it seems to concretize a moderation in Hamas' stance and a recognition that the 1967 borders are the only realistic parameters for any future Palestinian state. This was a recognition that you were said to have accepted several years ago, and now that Hamas' more militant Gaza wing has accepted this, many are curious to see how your role in Hamas will evolve.

Role-Playing Notes
You have called for inter-Palestinian dialogue to bring about a solution to all the differences between all the Palestinian people. You have also stated your desire to dialogue with many more countries. Because you do not live in Palestine, you had the freedom to travel and serve as almost a foreign officer of Hamas, meeting with different countries, groups and people. It is expected that you will continue in this role as a Senior Party Leader. Under your leadership Hamas changed quite a bit, and all signs are that it is now willing to accept Israel's presence if it ends the occupation and withdraws to the pre-1967 boundaries. Did you guide Hamas to a position where it can have greater international credibility as you step away from the leader's role, or has Hamas taken more of a desperate step that reflects its political isolation and its lack of power, even within the Palestinian polity?

Selected Resources

Hamas-The New York Times-

Hamas Leader Hails Obama For New Track-

Russia Defends Medvedev-Hamas Talks-

Profile: Khaled Meshaal-

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