Hamas chief Khaled Meshal will not seek reelection as the organization's political leader in forthcoming elections, he told a meeting in Khartoum three weeks ago.
There has been a widening rift between Hamas leaders in Gaza and those abroad. Palestinian analysts say Meshal recently realized that the Gaza leadership was determined to prevent his reappointment and decided instead to preempt them and quit.
However, the move may be intended to exert pressure on the Gaza leadership, which is demanding an increase in its power, and objects to the significant agenda changes advanced by Meshal.
The controversy between Hamas' leaders in Gaza and abroad focuses on the approach to Israel, the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, establishing a Palestinian state and, above all, the relations with Syria and Iran.
Hamas' Gaza leader, Ismail Haniyeh, and his men decided to prove to the organization's leaders who recently fled Damascus they could no longer impose their decisions on Gaza.
The Gaza leadership's position was bolstered by the realization that Meshal was trying to change Hamas' struggle strategy and lead it to an historic reconciliation with Fatah, while concentrating its energies on an Arab Spring-type struggle. Haniyeh, meanwhile, is sticking to his former stance, demanding to close ranks with Islamic Jihad.
The head of Hamas' military wing in Gaza, Ahmed Jabril, has not said which side he supports yet.
The tension between Haniyeh and Meshal started after the latter's reconciliation meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo last November. Earlier, in May 2011, the Gaza leadership heard Meshal announce that Hamas was "willing to give peace another chance."
In November, he added that Hamas was in favor of establishing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, joining Fatah and focusing on the "popular struggle" without the use of firearms.
Haniyeh reacted swiftly, declaring the armed struggle a strategic choice and Hamas' only way of achieving its goals. Haniyeh made it clear in his recent visits to Egypt, Turkey and Sudan that a Palestinian state would be established on every inch of Palestine, from the sea to the river, and Hamas would never recognize Israel.
The confrontation between Haniyeh and Meshal escalated in the organization leadership's meeting in Khartoum, where Haniyeh openly criticized Meshal.
Thus, within a few weeks, Haniyeh - who was seen as one of the most pragmatic of Hamas' leaders - turned into a hawk showing Meshal the way out.
At the same time, Meshal's position weakened due to the fraying relations with Syria and Iran.
President Bashar Assad's weakness and the riots in Syria significantly reduced the funds Syria transferred to Hamas and reduced Hamas' training in Syria. Iran also reduced funds given to Hamas.
The differences between the Hamas leaderships are also reflected in the approach to Islamic Jihad. Hamas officers in Gaza arrested Jihad activists in December and interrogated them on suspicion of planning to launch Qassam rockets into Israel. But on Tuesday, Haniyeh met a senior Jihad official, Mohammed al-Hindi, praised his organization and called for a unification of the two groups.
Hamas is trying to distance itself from Damascus and senior Hamas families have left Syria in recent months. The family of deputy political bureau chief Mousa Abu Marzook left for Egypt. Two other bureau officials left Damascus this week.
Palestinian sources said most of the Meshal family was staying in Qatar, but part of it remains in Syria. Only a few senior Hamas officials remain in Syria.
The tension between Hamas and Iran has also increased, following Hamas' refusal to heed Iran's pleas that it stays in Damascus.
Islamic Jihad, in contrast, is rapidly coming closer to Bashar Assad's regime. At the end of December, the group sent dozens of activists to train in Syria and Iran. Palestinian sources reported that the move was made after Iran pressured the Jihad leadership to openly support Assad's regime. Tehran even hinted it would stop the financial support to Islamic Jihad unless it sends its activists to the training courses in Syria.
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