Mashaal has been trying to move Hamas closer to its parent movement, the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni group. The Brotherhood, a rival of Shiite Muslim-led Iran, rose to power in Egypt and Tunisia after last year’s Arab Spring uprisings. Mashaal also has close ties with Turkey and Qatar.
Both Egypt and Qatar have tried to broker a reconciliation deal between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, from whom Hamas seized Gaza more than five years ago. The most recent deal was signed this year by Abbas and Mashaal in the Qatari capital of Doha, but Mashaal couldn’t move forward because of an uproar by Hamas hardliners in Gaza.
Senior figures in Gaza, including Hamas strongman Mahmoud Zahar, complained at the time that they hadn’t been consulted. But mainly they balked at the idea of restoring some of Abbas’ authority in Gaza ahead of new elections — as envisioned by the Doha deal.
Saeb Erekat, an Abbas aide in the West Bank, said Thursday that the Mashaal visit to Gaza might help a unity deal. ‘‘This would give a chance to everyone in Gaza to hear what the agreement in Doha was about,’’ he said.
However, the Mashaal visit and Hamas’ successful dare of Israel — firing rockets toward Tel Aviv without triggering an Israeli ground offensive — also signaled that the Gaza branch of Hamas is becoming increasingly influential at the expense of the exiles.
In the past, the exile-based political bureau was the main decision-maker and conduit for funds. In running Gaza, Hamas leaders there are increasingly making fateful decisions for the movement.
With Hamas basking in its self-declared victory over Israel, the group might be even less willing than before to compromise with Abbas for the sake of a unity deal. At the same time, reconciliation faces a host of other obstacles, including opposition from Abbas’ Fatah movement and lack of a clear path forward, including how to merge rival security forces.
Hamas leaders in Gaza portrayed the Mashaal visit as part of an extended celebration of what they see as their military triumph. ‘‘Mashaal is coming at a time when we are celebrating victory in the war,’’ said Salah Bardawil, a local Hamas leader. ‘‘A Hamas leader should come and celebrate with his people.’’
Laub reported from Ramallah, West Bank