World Bulletin / News Desk
Haniyeh, a former prime minister, was selected as the group’s leader in a vote held Saturday in both the Gaza Strip and Qatar simultaneously via video conference.
He will replace Khaled Meshaal, who has been Hamas leader since 1996.
His election came days after Hamas unveiled a revised charter that dropped its pledge for Israel’s destruction and accepted a Palestinian state along the borders set before Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
“Haniyeh is a charismatic figure and is popular at home and abroad,” Mukhemar Abu Saada, a professor of political sciences at Gaza-based Al-Azhar University said.
“He is also a moderate politician,” he said, expecting the new Hamas leader would seek to bolster the group’s relations with Sunni Arab countries.
Gaza-born Haniyeh, 54, led Hamas to its sweeping victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections.
He was named a prime minister following the group’s electoral win, but was later sacked by President Mahmoud Abbas after Hamas seized control of Gaza after bloody infighting with rival group Fatah.
Mustafa Ibrahim, a political analyst, sees the biggest challenge for Haniyeh will be marketing Hamas’s revised charter.
“The terrorism label is one of the biggest challenges facing Hamas, which is seeking, via its charter, to tell the world that it’s a nationalist group,” he said.
“Hamas has also distanced itself from the Muslim Brotherhood, which is being targeted in many countries,” Ibrahim said.
The analyst listed the decades-long Israeli occupation and inter-Palestinian reconciliation as among challenges facing the new Hamas leader.
Abu Saada echoes a similar opinion.
“We could see attempts by Haniyeh to approach Egypt and other Arab countries in an effort to market Hamas’s new charter,” he said.
He, however, ruled out any breakthrough in terms of removing Hamas from the terror list by the West.
“Hamas could succeed in removing its political wing, not the military arm, from the terror list,” he said.
Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S., EU and Israel.
"Hamas was not historically classified as a terrorist group until the 2nd Palestinian intifada in 2000 when the group carried out attacks against Israeli civilians," Abu Saada said.