Ismail Haniyeh is the chief of Hamas’s political bureau. He formerly served as deputy leader of Hamas between 2014 and 2017 and as Hamas’s prime minister in Gaza between 2007 and 2014.“Ismail Haniyeh elected new political head of Hamas,” Times of Israel, May 6, 2017, http://www.timesofisrael.com/ismail-haniyeh-elected-new-head-of-hamas/?utm_source=The+Times+of+Israel+Daily+Edition&utm_campaign=0dd24464cd-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_05_05&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_adb46cec92-0dd24464cd-55118405. After Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement in April 2014, Haniyeh stepped down as prime ministerJodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner, “With Hope for Unity, Abbas Swears In a New Palestinian Government,” New York Times, June 2, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/world/middleeast/abbas-swears-in-a-new-palestinian-government.html. and accepted the role as deputy leader of Hamas.Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner, “Israel Warns Against Embracing Newly Reconciled Palestinian Government,” New York Times, June 1, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/02/world/middleeast/israel-warns-against-embracing-newly-reconciled-palestinian-government.html. Since then, Hamas has denied Palestinian Authority (PA) attempts to assert authority in Gaza—remaining in control of the coastal enclave.Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner, “Palestinian Premier Says New Government Lacks Power in Gaza,” New York Times, June 12, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/13/world/middleeast/palestinian-authority-premier-says-unity-government-lacks-power-in-gaza.htmll.
Hamas’s Shura Council elected Haniyeh the new chief of Hamas’s political bureau on May 6, 2017. He replaced Khaled Meshaal, who had held the position for two terms since 2004.“Ismail Haniyeh elected new political head of Hamas,” Times of Israel, May 6, 2017, http://www.timesofisrael.com/ismail-haniyeh-elected-new-head-of-hamas/?utm_source=The+Times+of+Israel+Daily+Edition&utm_campaign=0dd24464cd-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_05_05&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_adb46cec92-0dd24464cd-55118405. The day following the May 2017 election, Haniyeh received a congratulatory phone call from Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad Bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani, affirming continued Qatari support, according to Hamas.“Qatar's Foreign Minister congratulates Haniyeh on his election win as head of Hamas,” Hamas website, May 7, 2017, http://hamas.ps/en/post/700/qatar-s-foreign-minister-congratulates-haniyeh-on-his-election-win-as-head-of-hamas.
Haniyeh has long advocated a political role for Hamas, resulting in his ascension to prime minister of the PA in 2006 when the group joined Palestinian politics before violently assuming control over Gaza the following year. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fired Haniyeh as prime minister in June 2007 following clashes between Hamas and Fatah forces. Haniyeh refused to accept his dismissal and instead expelled Fatah and the PA from Gaza.J Conal Urquart, Ian Black, and Mark Tran, “Hamas Takes Control of Gaza,” Guardian, June 15, 2007, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jun/15/israel4;
“Abbas Sacks Hamas-Led Government,” BBC News, June 15, 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6754499.stm. That same month, Hamas established its own government to rule Gaza with Haniyeh as prime minister. The Hamas government remained separate from the PA, maintaining its own security control over Gaza in opposition to both the PA and Israel. Haniyeh remained prime minister of Gaza until a 2014 reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah, after which Haniyeh became Hamas’s deputy political leader.Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner, “Israel Warns Against Embracing Newly Reconciled Palestinian Government,” New York Times, June 1, 2014,http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/02/world/middleeast/israel-warns-against-embracing-newly-reconciled-palestinian-government.html.
Haniyeh has operated out of the Gaza Strip since assuming the role of Palestinian prime minister in 2006. Hamas has not revealed whether Haniyeh will relocate to Qatar as head of the group’s political bureau, though Hamas’s top political leaders have largely chosen to reside outside of Gaza to avoid restrictions on movement. Meshaal has resided in Doha, Qatar, since 2012, when Hamas’s leadership fled from Syria.“Hamas Political Chiefs Exit Syria,” BBC News, February 28, 2012,http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-17192278. Haniyeh left Gaza in late 2016 to perform the traditional Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca and visit Meshaal in Qatar, sparking speculation that he would relocate to Qatar in anticipation of assuming leadership of Hamas’s politbureau. Hamas quashed the rumors and stated that Haniyeh would return to Gaza.Adam Rasgon, “Hamas Leader: Haniyeh to Return to Gaza After Qatar Stint,” Jerusalem Post, November 22, 2016, http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Hamas-leader-Haniyeh-to-return-to-Gaza-after-Qatar-stint-473328. Following Haniyeh’s May 2017 election, the New York Times reported that Haniyeh would move to Qatar.Isabel Kershner and Majd Al Waheidi, “Hamas Picks Ismail Haniya as Leader as Power Balance Shifts to Gaza,” New York Times, May 6, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/06/world/middleeast/hamas-leader-ismail-haniya-gaza.html?_r=1. However, Haaretz later reported that Haniyeh intends to travel between Gaza and Qatar, though that is largely dependent on Egypt allowing him to exit the territory.Jack Khoury, “Analysis No Reconciliation in Sight: Abbas’ Team Is Unenthused by Hamas’ New Leadership,” Haaretz (Jerusalem), May 7, 2017, http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.787690.
In his outgoing speech, Meshaal said that Haniyeh and Hamas’s political bureau would continue to focus on the “key” issues of “liberation, Jerusalem, prisoners, right of refugees, lifting the siege imposed on Gaza, and achieving internal unity.”“Khalid Meshal's speech during the inauguration of the new head of Hamas political bureau, Ismail Haniya ( an excerpt),” Hamas website, May 6, 2017, http://hamas.ps/en/post/694/khalid-meshal-s-speech-during-the-inauguration-of-the-new-head-of-hamas-political-bureau-ismail-haniya-(-an-excerpt).
After assuming the leadership of Hamas, Haniyeh did not leave the Gaza Strip again until December 2019 when he led a Hamas delegation on a multi-national tour. Haniyeh held high-level meetings in Turkey and Qatar. Days after his December 8 meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, British media reported that Hamas has continued to plan terrorist attacks from a base in Istanbul with the knowledge of the Turkish government. The delegation announced it also planned to visit Malaysia, Russia, Lebanon, Mauritania, and Kuwait. While in Istanbul, Haniyeh told Turkish media that he is also trying to strengthen Hamas’s relationship with Iran.Raf Sanchez, “Exclusive: Hamas plots attacks on Israel from Turkey as Erdogan turns blind eye,” Telegraph (London), December 17, 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/12/17/hamas-plots-attacks-israel-turkey-erdogan-turns-blind-eye/; “Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh visits Turkey, meets with Erdogan,” Jerusalem Post, December 15, 2019, https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Hamas-leader-Ismail-Haniyeh-visits-Turkey-meets-Erdogan-610942; Seth J. Frantzman, “Turkey and Qatar give warm embrace to Hamas leaders,” Jerusalem Post, December 17, 2019, https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Turkey-and-Qatar-give-warm-embrace-to-Hamas-leaders-611219.
Haniyeh traveled to Iran the following month to attend the funeral of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who died in a U.S. airstrike on January 3, 2020. Haniyeh was only one of a handful of people to speak at the funeral. He praised Iran and pledged that the Palestinian resistance would continue. Haniyeh also stood close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, signaling that Hamas was attempting to restore its relations with Iran. Prior to the funeral, Haniyeh made a condolence call to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who pledged that Iran would continue to back “the Palestinian people’s rights and resistance in defense of its land and holy sites.”“Hamas leader praises Soleimani at Tehran funeral in show of support for Iran,” Times of Israel, January 6, 2020, https://www.timesofisrael.com/hamas-leader-praises-soleimani-at-tehran-funeral-in-show-of-support-for-iran/. Haniyeh also met with Ismail Ghaani, Soleimani’s replacement as head of the Quds Force. The visit to Tehran reportedly infuriated the Egyptian government, which expressly forbade Haniyeh from visiting Iran on his trip abroad.Adam Rasgon, “Egypt reportedly simmers over Hamas chief’s trip to Iran,” Times of Israel, January 7, 2020, https://www.timesofisrael.com/egypt-reportedly-simmers-over-hamas-chiefs-trip-to-iran/.
In early February 2020, unconfirmed reports claimed that Egypt had prevented Haniyeh from returning to the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing, leaving Haniyeh to settle in Qatar. Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya later stated that Haniyeh would remain outside the Gaza Strip for at least six months.Khaled Abu Toameh, “Hamas leader Haniyeh decides to settle in Qatar – report,” Jerusalem Post, February 2, 2020, https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Hamas-leader-Haniyeh-decides-to-settle-in-Qatar-report-616253. Later that month, Hamas confirmed that Haniyeh would settle in Doha, Qatar, for the immediate future in order to continue traveling freely through the end of 2020 or early 2021.Ahmed Fouad, “Egypt may find Gaza more appealing without Haniyeh,” Al-Monitor, February 25, 2020, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/02/egypt-ban-hamas-haniyeh-return-gaza-iran-qatar.html. Haniyeh continued to exercise this freedom of movement throughout 2020. On August 22, Haniyeh again met with Erdoğan, a move that led the U.S. State Department to raise “concerns about the Turkish government’s relationship with Hamas at the highest levels.”Joseph Haboush, “US Criticizes Erdogan for Meeting with Hamas Leadership, Warns of Turkish Isolation,” Al Arabiya, August 25, 2020, https://english.alarabiya.net/News/middle-east/2020/08/25/US-criticizes-Erdogan-for-meeting-with-Hamas-leadership-warns-of-Turkish-isolation. In September, Haniyeh met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon. The two leaders reaffirmed the “stability” of the “axis of resistance” against Israel and discussed regional developments such as the previous month’s announcement of formal ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Haniyeh and Nasrallah jointly condemned Arab normalization with Israel. Haniyeh also visited Lebanon’s Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp and announced Hamas possessed rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv.“Hamas and Hezbollah leaders meet in Lebanon,” Middle East Eye, September 6, 2020, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/lebanon-palestine-hezbollah-hamas-nasrallah-haniyeh-meeting. In October 2020, Haniyeh conveyed his “absolute rejection” to the restoration of diplomatic ties between the UAE and Israel in a phone call with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.Stephen Farrell, “Israel Hails UAE Deal but Palestinians - and Settlers – Dismayed,” Reuters, August 13, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-emirates-trump-reactions/israel-hails-uae-deal-but-palestinians-and-settlers-dismayed-idUSKCN2592R5.
Hamas holds internal elections every four years. Ahead of its 2021 elections, there were reports Meshaal was considering ousting Haniyeh and reclaiming his role as Hamas’s chief political leader. In April 2021, however, Hamas announced Meshaal would take over as leader of the group’s foreign office and become its deputy leader.Aaron Boxerman, “Khaled Mashaal tapped as Hamas’s diaspora director,” Times of Israel, April 12, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/khaled-mashaal-tapped-as-hamass-international-director/. On August 1, 2021, Hamas announced Haniyeh had been elected to a second term as the group’s political chief.Nidal Al-mughrabi, “Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas,” Reuters, August 1, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/haniyeh-re-elected-chief-palestinian-islamist-group-hamas-2021-08-01/.
The U.S. government designated Ismail Haniyeh as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on January 31, 2018.“Counter Terrorism Designations,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, January 31, 2018, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20180131.aspx.