Hamas has reelected a prominent Qatar-based official to head its inner circle, further solidifying ties between the terror group and the wealthy Islamic government, according to reports.
Longtime Hamas leader Khaled Meshal was reportedly reelected Monday for a fifth term to lead the terror group’s external political body following a chaotic and muddled process that saw Meshal initially promising to step down.
Meshal and other Hamas officials were forced to flee the group’s headquarters in civil war-ravaged Syria. He has since stationed himself in Qatar, which has emerged as Hamas’ newest benefactor.
Qatar has pledged to give Hamas $400 million. The figure constitutes a critical new funding stream that will supplement major subsidies from Iran, which has lessened its financial support for Hamas as Western sanctions cripple its economy.
Meshal’s selection is a sign the group has no plans to renounce terrorism or violence against Israel, Western experts say.
The Hamas elections took place in Egypt, which has had a conflicted relationship with Hamas since the Muslim Brotherhood assumed control.
"Meshal's selection demonstrates the increased importance of Qatar, which has emerged as one of Hamas' primary funders since Iran's funding dried up due to U.S.-led sanctions, among other factors," Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote in a post-election analysis.
"Qatar is, in blunt terms, Hamas' new ATM," Schanzer wrote.
The rest of Hamas’s senior leadership has scattered "throughout the Muslim world," including in Egypt, according to Schanzer.
Meshal’s deputy Ismail Haniyeh also serves as the prime minister of the Gaza Strip. He also was reelected, according to early reports.
The reelection of these two powerful political brokers suggests Hamas is strengthening its grip on the Gaza Strip, which remains cut off from the West as well as from the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank.
"If Haniyeh is confirmed as the number two, the move would signify the rising importance of the Gaza-based leadership, which fights on the "front lines" against Israel, Schanzer wrote.
The election also shows that Hamas is reinforcing its worst tendencies rather than embracing reform, Schanzer wrote.
"The Hamas leadership selection reflects absolutely no changes in the group's approach to terrorism or rejectionism" of Israel, Schanzer wrote. "Meshal, during a visit to Gaza in December, vowed that Hamas would continue its strategy of violence against Israel. With a new four-year term, it’s reasonable to expect more of the same."
Hamas also introduced a law Monday that would no longer allow boys and girls to attend the same schools. Children over the age of nine will be segregated by gender, according to reports.
Egypt’s prominent role in the Hamas political process is also being viewed as significant to the regional balance.
"Despite recent tensions (Egypt flooded Hamas smuggling tunnels and accused Hamas members of hatching plots against the state), both Cairo and Hamas understand that Egypt is Hamas' key to the outside world," according to Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the U.S. Treasury Department. "If Hamas is ever to integrate politically or economically with the rest of the Arab world, Egypt is the portal."
Hamas officials were in Cairo over the weekend to meet with "Egyptian intelligence chief Rafat Shehata to discuss a number of issues," according to the Ma’an News Agency.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to visit the Gaza Strip sometime this month, a move that has been condemned by the rival PA, which is angling to maintain its role as the preeminent Palestinian political movement.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas continues to take political potshots at Hamas.
Abbas has said he will attend an Arab League meeting in Cairo, provided he is the sole representative of the Palestinian people.
"Once again I say that if we are invited to an Arab summit, we will go because we represent the Palestinian people, and nobody else should be invited to represent them," Abbas was quoted as saying by the Ma’an News Agency.
Meanwhile, the reform-minded Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was hospitalized Monday for stomach problems, according to Foreign Policy.
Abbas has reportedly considered firing Fayyad.