Elections to the Hamas Political Bureau in the Gaza Strip: Overview and Significance

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1.- Elections were recently held for Hamas’ political bureau in the Gaza Strip, the highest leadership institution in Gaza. Several thousand voters participated, electing 15 members. Yahya al-Sinwar was chosen to head the new political bureau. He was a senior operative in the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, and a member of the previous political bureau. He fully represents the positions of the military wing. Khalil al-Haya, also a member of the previous political bureau, was elected as deputy head. Both hold extremist views and their election clearly signals the strengthening of Hamas’ extremist wing, which is based on former military wing operatives.

2. At least five of the new political bureau members are affiliated with Hamas’ military wing (Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades). Two were terrorist operatives released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal. Some of them spent years in Israeli jails. Among those voted in were residents of the refugee camps, members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, former ministers and a mayor. However, operatives affiliated with the military wing hold the main power in the new political bureau. Many of the political bureau members were born in the 1960s, and represent Hamas’ middle generation, which took over the reins of leadership when most of the movement’s founding members left office or died (the last founding member is Mahmoud al-Zahar, who also holds extremist views).

3. The elections in the Gaza Strip were one stage in comprehensive elections for the movement’s institutions; elections will also be held in Judea and Samaria and “abroad.” The process will end when the General Shura Council, Hamas’ highest leadership institution, appoints the head of the movement’s political bureau. It is generally accepted that Ismail Haniyeh, former head of Hamas’ political bureau in the Gaza Strip, will replace Khaled Mashaal.

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