According to Yaari, whose recent paper on the topic provides indispensable insights into the opaque process, the victory of sworn Mishal rival Imad al-Alami, who is a former Hamas military chief, as well as numerous commanders in Hamas's Qassam Brigades, was a clear blow to Mishaal and his preference for political reconciliation and democratic aspirations.
Mishaal's decision this week not to stand for reelection for chief of Hamas's political bureau is thus his final admission of defeat. He has no intention of being a powerless figurehead or a fig leaf for an increasingly radicalized group. But Hamas may not let him go so quickly. Practically, he has many contacts and a network of supporters in other countries, and is a crucial fundraiser for the group.
But on a deeper level, the group is tremendously sensitive about its image. "They are very keen to maintain a facade of eternal unity and everlasting love," Yaari says, "a movement where everyone is united in love of Islam and the Prophet Mohamed." Hamas, much like other Muslim Brotherhood organizations, puts a premium on consensus and patience.
Acknowledging these rifts -- and the increasing dominance of its militant wing -- might also imperil Hamas's efforts to cozy up to the new Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Egypt, which long-ago eschewed violence and is involved in its own efforts to distance itself from radicals.
Though the group claims it holds its elections in secret for security reasons, it also conveniently serves to hide internal tensions. Yaari believes that is likely why the group continues to protract its election process, which was initiated at the beginning of the year. Definitively marking an end to voting would require them to admit rifts within the organization and reorganize their leadership ranks according to the results. Similarly, accepting Mishaal's resignation would shatter Hamas's well-crafted facade.
So what are the implications of Hamas being forced to recognize the shifting power centers in its leadership, and adjust its positions and behavior accordingly? From an Israeli perspective, the most disconcerting outcome may be an escalation of Hamas's efforts to upgrade its military capabilities -- not only in the Gaza Strip, which has been continuing apace, but possibly extended to the West Bank and Sinai Peninsula as well.
It is also probably a final death-knell to Hamas's on-again, off-again reconciliation efforts with Fatah. As the Carnegie Endowment's Nathan Brown argued when the latest reconciliation agreement was announced, including Hamas in the Palestinian government would not only make it "difficult to carry on serious, conflict-ending diplomacy" but would also be "a formula for paralysis" if the Palestinians stuck to their commitment to make every decision by consensus. On the other hand, having a broadly-representative Palestinian government "is a necessary condition for any viable diplomacy in the future."
Ultimately, whether or not it allies with Fatah, Hamas has become an undeniable player on the Palestinian political landscape. Mishaal has done everyone a favor by publicly exposing the new dynamics at play within the group. They may try to save face by convincing him to stay in some ceremonial position, but he is unlikely to retain any power in the group -- leaving no one to block its increasing radicalization