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Update from AIJAC

May 18, 2012
Number 05/12 #05

This Update is focussed on Palestinian politics - and especially the significance of the recent, secretive elections within Hamas which chose that organisation's leadership bodies. 

First up is Ehud Yaari, leading Israeli journalist renowned for his sources in both Palestinian and other Arab governments, offering unique insights into both how the Hamas elections were carried out, the results, and what they likely mean. The key trends Yaari notes are an increasing predominance of the military wing over politics - as has occurred in Iran - and a growing dominance of the internal leadership in Gaza over Hamas leaders in exile, including especially the increasingly side-lined theoretical top leader Khaled Mashal. Yaari further explores how these changes are affecting Hamas relationships with both Egypt and Iran, the movement's two possible poles of support. For Yaari's full analysis of the state of Hamas today, based on unparalleled sources and access, CLICK HERE.

Next up is Israeli academic Dr. Jonathan Spyer (who is due to visit Australia next month as a guest of AIJAC) looking at another lesson to be learned from the Hamas political re-shuffle. Spyer points out that this election, and the triumph of the Gaza leadership over external factions, highlights the degree to which Gaza has now permanently separated from the Palestinian Authority and today constitutes an " Islamist one-party quasi-state." Spyer goes on to argue that, despite hopes to the contrary by those wishing for a peace process, reconciliation or Palestinian unity looks very unlikely for the foreseeable future and he then goes on to analyse how Hamas is attempting to accommodate the Arab Spring. For this important dose of realism about Gaza from Spyer, CLICK HERE.

Finally, top Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh highlights allegations from within the Palestinian Authority (PA) about extensive corruption and misuse of donated aid funds. The allegations come from no less a figure than the deputy speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Hasan Khreishah. Khreishah not only denounces extensive high-living by the leadership class, and human rights abuses, but implies that the key goal of the leadership is keep aid funds flowing, and that claims about a financial crisis appear exaggerated. For this important piece highlighting serious concerns within the Palestinian establishment about the uses being made of Western aid, CLICK HERE.

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Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh addresses a rally

Secret Hamas Elections Point to Internal Struggle

Ehud Yaari

PolicyWatch 1936,
May 16, 2012

The ongoing Hamas elections will strengthen the military wing, weaken Khaled Mashal, make reconciliation with the PA more difficult, preserve close collaboration with Iran, and, perhaps, forge closer ties with Egypt.

The secretive elections for new Hamas leadership bodies are unofficially scheduled to continue until later this month, but it is already safe to point out some emerging trends as the movement struggles to cope with fierce debate over its future course. Top leader Khaled Mashal has been considerably weakened as his rivals in Gaza gain more influence and commanders in the military wing assume a much broader political role. In all likelihood, these developments will further complicate the group's stalled reconciliation efforts with the Palestinian Authority, accelerate its dash to achieve mass self-production of longer-range, more accurate missiles, and prevent -- at least for the foreseeable future -- a political divorce from Iran.

UNPRECEDENTED TURNOVER

As a rule, Hamas does not publish any election details, including the names of candidates, the number of voters, the location of polling stations, the institutions for which elections are held, or the results. Citing "security considerations," the group keeps all such information secret and prohibits campaigning. Despite these efforts, a fairly complete picture of the group's internal political struggle is already emerging. According to one senior Hamas official, more than 30 percent of members in the organization's different leadership institutions have been replaced by new faces. That is a dramatic change for a conservative movement that has been very reluctant to oust veteran figures.

Initially, separate elections were to take place in each of the movement's four designated regions. Two of these "regions" are now expected to bypass voting and instead select their representatives through a process of "consultations" (e.g., appointments).

First, Hamas prisoners will no longer choose their delegates through a complex system of mouth-to-ear ballot casting as they did in the past. Instead, those who already serve as the "command" for Hamas inmates -- usually in dealings with the Israeli Prison Service -- will be nominated as members-in-absentia to the movement's supreme bodies. Among these nominees will be convicted arch-terrorists such as Ibrahim Hamed, former chief of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades in the West Bank; Abbas al-Sayyed, mastermind of the 2002 Passover Eve massacre in Netanya; Hassan Salameh, architect of the group's suicide bombings in the 1990s; and Jamal Abu al-Haija, former Qassam commander in the Jenin district. Their participation in leadership deliberations will be limited to occasional requests for their opinions, submitted through their lawyers and family visitors. Yet it should be pointed out that during recent negotiations to end a prison hunger strike, these leaders of "the prisoners movement" -- as it is known in Palestinian political jargon -- essentially dictated to the rest of the Hamas leadership the terms for a deal with Israel, brokered by Egyptian intelligence.

Second, the West Bank is likely to skip Hamas elections for the first time ever given the difficulties posed by continuous harassment and detention of group members by both PA and Israeli security agencies. Saleh al-Aruri, who founded the Qassam Brigades in the West Bank and was released from an Israeli prison in March 2010, is now the key man in determining which Hamas members in the defunct Palestinian Legislative Council will be selected to fill this region's quota in the leadership bodies. Aruri has been operating for some time out of Turkey -- with Ankara's tacit blessing -- in an effort to resurrect Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank. He is now recognized as the group's de facto top leader in the West Bank at the expense of veteran local political figures, and has thus acquired important standing in the new Hamas hierarchy.

In the third region—Gaza—elections were concluded in late April, with 12,000 voters delivering a severe defeat to supporters of Mashal, head of the Hamas Executive Committee (a body established in 2009 yet never proclaimed as the official replacement for the old Political Bureau). Few if any Mashal loyalists made it to the different elected institutions: namely, the various district shura councils, the seventy-seven-member Gaza Shura Council (expanded from fifty-nine seats), and the fifteen-member Gaza Political Bureau (Salah al-Bardawil, Muhammad al-Jumasi, Issam Daghlas, and other key members lost their seats in the latter body). So-called moderates such as Ahmed Yousef and Ghazi Hamad were defeated, while sworn Mashal rivals enjoyed victories: Imad al-Alami -- former chief of the "military (or intifada) committee" who recently returned from Damascus after long years of tension with Mashal -- was elected deputy to Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh in the latter's unannounced other capacity as head of the local Political Bureau.

MILITARY ASCENDANCE

Although Haniyeh once again proved to be the most popular Hamas leader in Gaza, he is quite reluctant to claim overall leadership and often avoids controversy by letting more outspoken colleagues speak their minds. Alami, now widely perceived as a potential future successor to Mashal, better represents the most salient trend: the "Pasdaranization" of Hamas. Similar to the way the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (or Pasdaran) have managed to take over Iran's state apparatus over the past decade, the Hamas military wing is now assuming control over the movement's political course.

For example, perhaps the biggest winners at the Gaza polls (which are usually placed in mosques or charities) were Qassam Brigades commanders and their political partners. Muhammed Deif -- the behind-the-scenes Qassam shadow supremo who has yet to fully recover from the severe injuries he suffered during an Israeli assassination attempt ten years ago -- did not run himself, preferring to maintain his traditional low profile. Yet others won impressive victories on their way to the Political Bureau: Qassam leaders Ahmed Jabari and Marwan Issa; Yahya al-Sinwar and Rawhi Mushtaha, Qassam commanders who were released from Israeli prison as part of the Gilad Shalit deal; and Hamas interior minister Fathi Hamad, a close collaborator with the military chiefs. Aside from Mahmoud al-Zahar (who managed to overcome military attempts to subvert his candidacy), all of the other elected "civilians" were supported by the significant percentage of votes controlled by the Qassam Brigades, including such figures as Khalil al-Hayya and Nizar Awadallah.

"OUTSIDE" MEMBERS STILL VOTING

At present, Hamas is still conducting elections in the fourth region, which consists of a few thousand "outside" members (including around a thousand from the group's disbanded Damascus headquarters, currently scattered in different Arab and Muslim countries). Voting is taking place at Hamas branches in the Persian Gulf states, Lebanon, Sudan, Yemen, and Europe, and the expectation is that at least some of Mashal's lieutenants may lose their seats in the fifteen-member "outside" Political Bureau. One key outside member -- Mustafa al-Leddawi, a first-generation Hamas leader deported from Gaza by Israel -- was the first to come out publicly against Mashal, and was subsequently kidnapped for a few days in late April from his home in the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus. The unknown gunmen who seized him were widely believed to be enforcers employed by the remnants of Mashal's entourage.

The main challenge to Mashal's faction in the outside region comes from his deputy and rival Mousa Abu Marzouk, whom Egyptian authorities permitted to settle in Cairo after the dissolution of the Damascus headquarters, whereas Mashal was compelled to pitch his tent in Doha, Qatar. A native of Rafah in southern Gaza, Abu Marzouk has cultivated much closer contacts with the Gaza leadership than Mashal (originally from a West Bank village) can hope to achieve. The rivalry between the two stems not from ideological differences, but mainly from longstanding personal competition, since Mashal replaced Abu Marzouk as Hamas chief when the latter was detained in the United States.

IMPLICATIONS

In the end, a combination of the Gaza military and the Abu Marzouk camp will likely control the top leadership institutions: that is, the Hamas General Shura Council, composed of sixty members from all regions, and the nineteen-member Executive Committee, which runs the group's daily affairs.

For his part, Mashal will enjoy the support of most, but not all, of the West Bank representatives, though he will not command a majority. There are some indications that he may be reelected as Executive Committee head even though he announced in a secret Hamas gathering in Khartoum early this year that he does not intend to run for a third term. He was apparently hoping that his colleagues would plead with him to change his mind, but that did not happen. Still, his rivals aim not to depose him, but rather to limit his room for maneuver and submit him to majority rule. They have no interest in creating an open divide in the movement, and even his harshest critics realize the extent of his popularity among Palestinians.

Prior to the elections, Mashal sought to lead Hamas toward comprehensive reconciliation agreement with Fatah and was willing to sacrifice the movement's monopoly of power in Gaza to this end. His hope was to win future elections in the West Bank and take over the Palestine Liberation Organization. This policy was vehemently rejected and, in the end, foiled by his opponents in Gaza, who refused to dismantle the Hamas government there. They view the strip as a captured "fortress" that should never be relinquished, and as "the shortest route to al-Aqsa Mosque," in Haniyeh's words.

Moreover, while Mashal aspires to reshape Hamas as a Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood in line with the Arab Spring trend in other countries, his adversaries want to maintain the movement's standing as an armed resistance. Like some Gaza members, Mashal also believes that Hamas should maintain its distance from Iran despite receiving some $400 million annually from Tehran. Yet the military wing, and certainly Alami, see no alternative to close collaboration with the Islamic Republic as their main supplier. They also want to curb intensive Iranian support for Palestinian Islamic Jihad's military buildup in competition with the Qassam Brigades.

Before deciding to leave Damascus, Mashal had an advantage over Hamas officials in Gaza, since he held the purse strings and supervised arms smuggling to the strip. The center of gravity has now shifted back to the Gaza leadership, which is capable of developing its own network of foreign support given the upheaval in neighboring Egypt.

As a result, Mashal's capacity to lead the movement has been severely impaired. He is no longer first among equals, but more of a figurehead. Every move he makes from now on will need to be approved by his partners in Gaza beforehand, and military interests will likely trump political calculations in many situations.

Regarding specific issues, Hamas will no doubt resume the dialogue with Mahmoud Abbas, but reconciliation will now need to be reached on Gaza's terms. The group is also bound to be more attentive to Egyptian priorities, especially in maintaining the de facto ceasefire with Israel and avoiding open clashes with Cairo's interests in the Sinai. One may also assume that Qatar's influence will grow as its contributions to the Hamas treasury increase beyond the $200 million provided last year. Finally, in much the same way that the PA's establishment sidelined the PLO, the local Gaza leadership is now gaining ground at the expense of the outside leadership.

Ehud Yaari is an Israel-based Lafer international fellow with The Washington Institute.

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Hamas Elections Solidify Split from Palestinian Authority

Still, Western media pretends the split never happened.

by Jonathan Spyer

Pajamas Media, May 16, 2012 - 12:00 am

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement which controls the Gaza Strip, recently held internal elections. The polls were for the Gaza Political Bureau and Shura Council, often described as the movement’s parliament. Hamas holds its votes in secret, and tries to prevent the outside world from gaining knowledge of the movement’s internal political processes. However, it has become clear that the elections represented a significant victory for Hamas’s Gaza leadership. This came at the expense of the formerly Damascus-based external leadership group of Khaled Meshaal, which is now scattered across the region.

Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is now the head of the Gaza Political Bureau. This is the top movement position in the Strip. He is the first to hold this title since Abd al-Aziz Rantisi was killed by Israel in 2004.

The latest victory of the Gaza leaders may be a step on the road to their capture of the overall leadership of Hamas. This advance, in turn, may be traced back to two key elements.

First, the Gaza leaders possess power, a key element that their rivals lack. They hold real political and administrative power and control over the lives of the 1.7 million inhabitants of Gaza and of the 365 square kilometers in which they live. Second: the upheavals in the Arab world — and specifically the civil war in Syria — have served to severely weaken the formerly Damascus-based external leadership, depleting the value of the assets they held in the competition with the internal Gaza leaders.

The nature of the regime created by Hamas in Gaza, and its strength and durability, has received insufficient attention in the West. This may have a political root: Western governments feel the need to keep alive the fiction of the long-dead peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. One of the necessary components of this is pretending that the historic split between nationalists and Islamists among the Palestinians has not really happened, or that it is a temporary glitch that will soon be reconciled. This fiction is necessary for peace process believers, because it enables them to continue to treat the West Bank Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas as the sole representative of the Palestinians.

But fiction it is. An Islamist one-party quasi-state has been built in Gaza over the last half-decade. The prospects for this enclave and its importance in the period ahead have been immeasurably strengthened by the advances made by Hamas’ fellow Muslim Brotherhood branches in Egypt and elsewhere in the region.

Hamas has created a unique, Sunni Islamist form of authoritarian government in the Gaza Strip. It has successfully crushed all political opposition. It has created a security system in which a movement militia, the Qassam Brigades, exists alongside supposedly non-political security forces which are themselves answerable to Hamas-controlled ministries. It has imposed the will of the Hamas government on the formerly PA-controlled judiciary, and has simultaneously created a parallel system of Islamic courts.

The result of all this is that there is today no serious challenge to Hamas control of Gaza.

Against this center of real-world power, the external Hamas leadership faced the prospect of growing irrelevance in recent years. It was saved from this irrelevance because it controlled the foreign contacts — most importantly with Iran — that brought the donations vital to the survival of the Gaza enclave. This money in turn underwrote the existence of the Qassam Brigades, and hence made any challenge from Gaza to the external leadership unfeasible.

Then the “Arab Spring” came to Syria, home base of the external leadership. Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood franchise, faced a dilemma. The Iran-led regional alliance of which it was a part was crushing an uprising at least partially led by its fellow Muslim Brothers in Syria.

Hamas made its choice — in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood. As a result, Iranian donations have rapidly depleted. The external leadership has scattered in a number of directions from Damascus: Meshaal is in Qatar; Mousa Abu Marzook is in Cairo; Imad Alami has returned to Gaza. There are members as far afield as Istanbul and Khartoum.

The internal leadership, meanwhile, has increased revenues from the smuggling tunnels between Sinai and Gaza since the fall of Mubarak in Egypt. This is helping to make up for the decline in Iranian support.

Reports suggest that control of the movement’s budget and of the Qassam Brigades has now been removed from Meshaal, though he retains his formal position as the movement’s overall leader. The internal leadership also headed off an attempt by Meshaal to cobble together a “reconciliation” deal with the West Bank PA in February. Such a deal would have required Hamas to dismantle the structures of its government in Gaza.

Palestinian nationalism has traditionally favored words and gestures over concrete deeds. This is one of the sources for its historical failure to produce anything much tangible of note. Palestinian Islamism has a different approach: in line with the traditional strategy  of the Muslim Brotherhood, it understands the importance of concrete, patient building on the ground.

This does not mean that Hamas in Gaza has lost sight or will lose sight of the maximalist ideological goals of the movement. It does mean, however, that the split in the Palestinian national movement should now finally be internalized as a long-term development. The more formidable, serious element of that movement is in control of Gaza. The Islamist one-party statelet in Gaza, in turn, is allied with the trend that is proving the major beneficiary of the Arab upheavals of 2011 — namely, Sunni Islamism.

If the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power in Egypt, Hamas-controlled Gaza may yet become a point of strategic importance as a friction point with Israel, which could lead to broader tensions.

Jonathan Spyer is a Senior Research Fellow at the GLORIA Center and the author of The Transforming Fire: the Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict. In February, he visited Idleb Province in Syria
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The Main Goal of the Palestinian Government

by Khaled Abu Toameh

Gatestone Institute. May 16, 2012 at 5:00 am

    The Palestinian government is in fact lying when it talks about a financial crisis; its main goal is to get Western and Arab donors to channel more funds to Ramallah. "Corruption in the Palestinian Authority is more widespread than in the past." — Hasan Khreishah, Deputy Speaker, Palestinian Parliament.

At a time when many Western governments, the World Bank and various international organizations are continuing to heap praise on the Palestinian Authority for implementing reforms, the deputy speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Hasan Khreishah, announced that financial and administrative corruption was now more widespread than ever.

Khreishah, who is an independent parliamentarian, made it clear that the Palestinian government of Salam Fayyad, which has been hailed for combating corruption and implementing major reforms, was continuing to squander public funds.

One of the charges the deputy parliament speaker makes is related to the Palestinian government's claim that it is facing severe financial crisis.

Khreishah says that the Palestinian government is in fact lying when it talks about a financial crisis; its main goal is to get Western and Arab donors to channel more funds to Ramallah: "Corruption in the Palestinian Authority is more widespread than in the past," he said. "We hear about the suffering and hunger of the poor and the difficulties facing the unemployed, farmers, villagers and civil servants," Khreishah said. "At the same time, we hear about the luxurious life of senior and influential officials and the involvement of some in money laundering."

What Khreishah is saying is that Western donors, specifically the US and EU, are continuing to pour billions of dollars on the Palestinian Authority without holding its leaders fully accountable.

He revealed, for example, that the chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund, a company that was established by the PLO, was receiving a salary of $35,000 a month, or $420,000 a year, while the average salary of a civil servant in the Palestinian Authority ranges from $500 to $1,000 a month.

Khreishah also disclosed that senior members of the PLO and Fatah have not only awarded themselves huge salaries, but also- luxurious vehicles, as well as various privileges.

A senior Palestinian official, he said, spends an average of five days abroad together with aides, advisors and secretaries -- all at the expense of the Palestinians.

"Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, we have had 228 ministers, in addition to advisers," Khreishah said in an interview with the London-based Al- Quds Al-Arabi newspaper."All receive high salaries and luxurious vehicles," he continued. "In light of the financial expenses [of the PA leadership], the talk about a financial crisis is repugnant and baseless," he charged. "This talk has become a sort of political statement."

Khreishah also lashed out at the two Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for violations of human rights and freedom of expression. Journalists have become a target for anyone who wants to violate human rights," Khreishah added. "Palestinians are being held hostages by the two parties."

Despite his senior status in the Palestinian Authority, including the fact that he is an elected parliament member, the international media chose to ignore his statements. Instead, some journalists rushed to seek denials from Palestinian government officials, who tried to discredit the whistle-blower by claiming that he was a Hamas supporter -- a charge that sounds ridiculous, especially to all those who have known Khreishah for many years.

The Palestinian government -- with the help of mainstream media in the West -- does not want such statements to appear in the international media lest they affect financial aid to the Palestinians. The next time the Palestinian government complains about a financial crisis, it would be advisable for Western donors to translate Khreishah's statements into English and read them before channeling additional funds to the Palestinian government's coffers.. ….Unless the Western donors enjoy being deceived and stripped of their money.

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