- The Trump administration declared Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh a terrorist following his incitement activities and his attempts to torpedo the U.S. president’s new Middle East policy plan.
- Hamas fears the administration’s declaration will give the green light to Israel to assassinate Ismail Haniyeh and other senior Hamas figures.
On January 31, 2018, the U.S. State Department officially announced the inclusion of Ismail Haniyeh, the director of the political bureau of Hamas, on its terrorist blacklist.
The announcement follows President Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and cuts in aid to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency). Trump’s administration has also threatened to close the offices of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) in Washington and reduce financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority. Now the U.S. administration is ready to deal with Hamas.
Former President Barack Obama’s administration didn’t act against the former chairman of the Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Mashaal. However, Trump’s administration is following a harder line in its policies in the war on terror.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued an official announcement stating that the chairman of Hamas’ political bureau, which rules over the Gaza Strip, threatens the stability of the Middle East and is destroying the peace process with Israel. Haniyeh has strong connections with the military wing of Hamas and supports armed activities, including against civilians.
Why Haniyeh Is Now on the List
U.S. sources state that Ismail Haniyeh’s name won’t be removed from the U.S. terrorist list following President Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital because, immediately after the declaration, Haniyeh called for a Palestinian intifada using every means. He declared that this was the main objective in working with Iran to torpedo Trump’s diplomatic plan even before it became public.
Several days later, Haniyeh made a speech from his home in the al-Shati refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. He announced that his movement would act against American plans to eliminate the Palestinian problem.
According to Haniyeh, there is a conspiracy to resolve the problem of the Gaza Strip at the expense of the Sinai Peninsula. The problem of the West Bank would be solved by creating a symbolic confederation with Jordan, giving Israel as much territory as possible, thereby providing a solution to its demographic problem.
Haniyeh’s name was added to the U.S. list, along with those of other senior Hamas officials, including Mohammed Deif, chief commander of Hamas’ military wing, and fellow members of the political bureau Yahya Sinwar, Ruhi Mushtaha, Fathi Hamad, and Ahmed al-Ghandour.
Similarly, the leaders of the Islamic Jihad movement appear on the list, including Dr. Abdullah Ramadan Shalah and his deputy Ziad Nahalla.
The Hamas movement was first included in the U.S. list of terror organizations in 1997. When Ismail Haniyeh’s name was put on the list, two other organizations were added to it at the same time. These were the Palestinian movement Al Sabrin of the Gaza Strip, which is supported by Iran, and the Egyptian Liwaa al-Thawra.
A Surprise for Hamas
The U.S. announcement took Hamas by surprise. Ismail Haniyeh has been in his position for less than a year. Although he distributed a new policy document aiming to present a more moderate image of the movement to the western world, he has now been declared a terrorist.
Senior Hamas figures hurried to condemn the U.S. declaration. Haniyeh himself stated that “The [Trump] regime can immerse itself in the water of Gaza and drink it.” Senior Hamas official Fathi al-Karawei said that this was a “mark of Cain” on Washington’s forehead. Khalil al-Hayya, a member of the Hamas political bureau, announced that the American decision backed up the Israeli occupation and was harmful to the leaders of the Palestinian people. He warned the Trump administration that it should take responsibility for any harm done to Ismail Haniyeh.
The Hamas leadership is concerned that the U.S. declaration has been coordinated with Israel. This gives Israel the “green light” to eliminate the Hamas leadership physically, which has been previously mentioned as an option by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Hamas sources state that Ismail Haniyeh is leading the Palestinian opposition to Trump’s “deal of the century” along with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Therefore, he is now a joint American-Israeli target.
The American declaration has aroused much anger among the Hamas leadership. It suspects that this is a step toward the delegitimization of the leaders of the movement and may cause an escalation in the struggle against it. America’s step comes two weeks after an assassination attempt on senior Hamas official Mohammed Hamdan in southern Lebanon. Hamas attributed the attack to the Israeli Mossad.
Other Reactions to the U.S. Announcement
The PLO also considers Haniyeh’s inclusion on the U.S. list of terrorists as a message to the Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the PLO’s Steering and Monitoring Committee, denounced the U.S. declaration. Sources in Fatah state that the administration is using this announcement to warn Mahmoud Abbas not to continue the peace process with Hamas, which is anyway at an impasse.
The U.S. administration is sending Mahmoud Abbas an additional message: take note of what happens to other Palestinian leaders who oppose President Trump’s new policy plan and are working to torpedo it.
Senior diplomatic sources in Israel welcomed the U.S. announcement. In 1996, Israel attempted to assassinate Hamas political bureau chairman Khaled Mashaal, in Jordan. However, the operation failed. In any case, Israel succeeded in eliminating the founder of the Hamas movement and first leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and other senior officials.
Ismail Haniyeh spends most of his time in the Gaza Strip. Occasionally, he travels to Iran and other Arab states. It would be difficult to apprehend him at an airport in any of these countries. However, apart from his official declaration as a terrorist, the U.S. announcement is significant in international law.
For example, no bank or organization connected with the United States can have any contact with Ismail Haniyeh since the U.S. list of terrorists circulates throughout the world.
What Will Be the Next Steps?
Hamas fears that America’s next step against Hamas will be the inclusion of its Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip on the list. Hamas’ intelligence apparatus controls this ministry.
The timing of the U.S. announcement is very important. It is possible that it precedes the inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood, from which Hamas originally sprang, on the list. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been working towards Hamas inclusion, since Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. presidency.
The Trump administration is trying to back Hamas into a corner by putting pressure on its new leadership. In the meantime, Haniyeh has not achieved anything for his people since he was elected to his position in an internal election. The reconciliation process with Fatah has collapsed. The economic and humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is getting worse, and Egypt is working toward closure of the Rafah crossing.
Israel is preparing for the possibility of an armed conflict with Hamas. It has developed new technology for the detection of tunnels infiltrating its territory, and so far, four attack tunnels have been detected. Israel is intensively building a large ground barrier around the Gaza Strip. These measures will destroy Hamas’ method of building tunnels, which it considers as its strategic weapon.
Therefore, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh may probably take new measures immediately to strengthen his position. These include a quick reconciliation with Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas and the establishment of a national unity government. Alternatively, he may return to the understandings with Mohammed Dahlan, who received Egyptian support. This may lead to the permanent opening of the Rafah crossing and additional measures to ease the siege of the Gaza Strip.