by Prof. Eyal Zisser
Former Hamas leader Mashaal wants to follow in the footsteps of Yasser Arafat, who took control of the Palestine Liberation Organization as an outsider.
Reports, according to which the Palestinian reconciliation accord between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah will pave the way for Hamas joining the Palestine Liberation Organization and at a later stage even allow it and its former leader, Khaled Mashaal, to seize the leadership crown, are not surprising and could even explain Hamas' sudden willingness to first reach a deal with the Palestinian Authority; all while conceding, even if only symbolically, its government in the Gaza Strip.
It is important to remember that after Hamas' hostile takeover of Gaza in June 2007, it became the sovereign power in the coastal enclave and therefore responsible for the well-being of its 2 million residents, but that did not give it inter-Palestinian and international legitimacy, nor the gravitas it needed to transform from a terrorist group with a political arm into an entity that garners global recognition as the representative leader of the Palestinians.
At the end of the day, even former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during his time took the PLO leadership by force. His first steps, incidentally, were with the Fatah organization, which he co-founded in January 1965, in Damascus under Syrian patronage. Fatah was meant to serve as a counterweight to the rival PLO, the more senior organization, which came into existence under Egyptian patronage. Arafat, however, was relegated to the sidelines in the Palestinian arena. It was only after the 1967 Six-Day War that he exploited the resounding defeat of Israel's Arab armies to join the PLO as the leader of Fatah, which he eventually came to control.
Mashaal, therefore, wants to follow in Arafat's footsteps – a necessary maneuver for a man who aspires to lead the Palestinian national movement, particularly after realizing that military might and even a hostile takeover of one territory or another will not grant him the legitimacy he craves.
It is hard to believe that Fatah will willingly hand over the keys to leadership and it is also safe to assume that Egypt does not want to see Hamas grow stronger. But quasi-democratic developments such as these have their own dynamics. In 2006, Israel was persuaded by Washington to allow Hamas to run in the general Palestinian elections, thinking the Islamist group had no chance of winning. But Hamas won those elections. We can assume Mashaal will now look to repeat that political ploy by joining the PLO and vying for its leadership.
Prof. Eyal Zisser
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