Profile: Khaled Meshaal

Hamas' leader has won widespread Palestinian support but international isolation.

    Since Hamas' electoral victory in January 2006, Meshaal has served as its representative in

     talks with the Egyptian and Russian governments, as well as the Arab League [EPA]

    Khaled Meshaal, 51, has been a senior political leader of Hamas, a Palestinian resistance movement, since 1995.


    Currently living in exile in the Syrian capital of Damascus, he is a key engineer of Hamas' policy towards Israel.


    But while he is a hero to many Palestinians, he is viewed by Israel, the US and other Western nations as the leader of an organisation committed to the Jewish state's destruction.

    "It is true that in reality, there will be an entity or a state called Israel on the rest of Palestinian land," Meshaal has said.

    "But I won't deal with it in terms of recognising or admitting it."


    Political beginnings 


    Born in 1956 from a Palestinian family in the West Bank, Meshaal was forced to live most of his life outside the Palestinian territories.


    Hamas cannot be blamed, nor can the Palestinian resistance for defending themselves in a war of necessity, not of race"
    After Israel invaded the West Bank in 1967, Meshaal and his family left their village near Ramallah.


    Like many at the time, thousands of Palestinians fled their hometown, fearful of the treatment they expected from their Israeli occupiers.


    Meshaal's father found work in the Gulf state of Kuwait, when the country was known for being a hotbed of Arab nationalism and pro-Palestinian sentiment.


    Soon after, Khaled Meshaal joined the Muslim Brotherhood, an influential political Muslim group.


    He later enrolled as a student of Kuwait University, studied physics and founded a student group called the List of the Islamic Right.


    Once Hamas was founded in 1987 after the first intifada (uprising), Meshaal led the Kuwait chapter of the organisation, but left the country when Iraq invaded in 1990.


    Meshaal moved to the Jordanian capital, Amman, where he became head of the Hamas branch.


    Assassination plot


    In 1997, Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israeli prime minister, sent a two-man hit squad to kill Meshaal.


    The agents attempted to inject a slow-acting lethal chemical into his ear on a public street, but the operation was botched and the men were soon arrested.


    King Hussein, leader of Jordan, was outraged by the attack and rushed to negotiate a deal whereby Netanyahu sent over the antidote to the chemical.


    Netanyahu had to release more than 40 Palestinians from Israeli prisons to secure the release of the two men who attacked Meshaal.


    Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas' historic founder who served nine years in jail, was among the Palestinians released.


    Yassin was killed in 2004 in an Israeli air raid on Gaza, while Abdel Aziz Rantissi, who co-founded Hamas with Yassin, was also killed by the Israeli military in the same year.


    Meshaal's reputation as a committed figure within the Hamas leadership was cemented after the leaders were assassinated.


    But he cannot return to the Palestinian territories for fear that he will be arrested or killed by Israeli authorities. As a result, he has lived in self-imposed exile since 2001.


    'War of necessity'


    Meshaal says that Hamas' policy is a direct reaction to Israel's invasion and subsequent occupation of Palestinian territories.


    In an interview conducted by Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, Meshaal asked: "Which came first, occupation or resistance?"


    "Israel started the occupation and as a reaction, came the resistance," he said.


    Meshaal rose to prominence after two
    Hamas founders were killed [EPA]

    He has accused the Israeli political and military leadership "of perpetrating the real Holocaust against the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank".


    "Hamas cannot be blamed, nor can the Palestinian resistance, for defending themselves in a war of necessity, not of race."


    But Israel sees Meshaal as the leader of a terrorist organisation.


    "The international community should try Khaled Mashaal for his involvement in murder and terror," Shimon Peres, currently the Israeli president, said in June 2006.


    And after Hamas won a landslide majority in the 2006 Palestinian government elections, Israeli and Western governments refused to deal with a Hamas-led government.


    Hamas' victory also fuelled a continuing power struggle against Palestinian Fatah, led by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority (PA).


    Meshaal refuses to see Abbas, whose Fatah organisation has relations with the US, a key Israeli ally, as a representative of all Palestinians.


    "Mahmoud Abbas is not a mediator. He is a Palestinian citizen and the Palestinian president, thus he can by no means act as a mediator between us and the Israelis. We do not seek mediation," he said.


    "Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah, Hamas, together with all other factions are supposed to be on the same side and Israel on the other."


    Palestinian differences


    Abbas later formed a national-unity government led by Ismail Haniya, a prominent Hamas leader, but the West refused to recognise Hamas cabinet members.


    An international political boycott against Hamas aggravated an existing rivalry between Hamas and Fatah.


    The struggle for power culminated in Hamas militarily taking over Palestinian institutions in the Gaza Strip in June 2007.


    Hamas' takeover of Gaza has left a legacy of distrust between it and its rival.


    "There are those who stabbed our democracy and preferred the military coup to the path of national dialogue," Abbas said in November 2007. "Hamas cannot erase Arafat's achievements."


    The deadly fighting in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah highlighted the differences between the policies that the two organisations each adopt towards Israel.


    While Abbas' Fatah organisation has entered US-brokered negotiations with Israel towards an eventual Palestinian state, Hamas refuses to recognise the Jewish state.


    In response to Hamas' position, Israel and the Middle East quartet of peace negotiators - the US, the EU, Russia and the United Nations - have not invite Hamas to participate in peace talks.


    And while Hamas-linked fighters continue to fire rockets into Israeli territory, Israeli leaders say they are justified in treating Hamas as a military threat, rather than a potential partner in a lasting peace.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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