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Hamas drops call for destruction of Israel

Hamas, the militant Islamist group, on Monday dropped a call for Israel’s destruction and endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state inside 1967 borders, in a rhetorical shift that analysts said reflected the group’s political ambitions and changing priorities in a new Middle East.

A policy paper released in Doha by Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’s political leader, described the creation of an interim Palestinian state in the 1967 lines — the cornerstone of the two-decade-old peace process supported by Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority — as “a formula for national consensus”.

The paper’s release came two days before Mr Abbas is due to meet Donald Trump, the US president, who has said he wants to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal with support from regional states, including Egypt.

Announcing the release of the paper, Mr Meshaal said that Hamas was part of the same ideological school as the Muslim Brotherhood but distanced the group from it, saying “we are an independent Palestinian faction”.

The US, Israel and other countries classify Hamas as a terrorist group but it has garnered support among Palestinians by positioning itself as a resistance movement willing to use force against Israel.

The Hamas policy paper continued to brand Israel, with which it has fought during three military operations since 2009, “a racist, anti-human and colonial Zionist project” and described Palestine as an “integral territorial unit”, from the River Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west.

Israel’s government rejected the shift in rhetoric, claiming that Hamas was “attempting to fool the world”. Gilad Erdan, the hardline public security minister, said the paper was “a mere PR stunt”.

“Daily, Hamas leaders call for genocide of all Jews and the destruction of Israel,” said David Keyes, spokesman for Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister. “They dig terror tunnels and have launched thousands upon thousands of missiles at Israeli civilians.”

Analysts said the policy shift reflected the political and financial pressure Hamas has felt since the downfall of Mohammad Morsi, the Islamist Egyptian president who supported the Palestinian faction before he was deposed in a coup in 2013. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who replaced him, has tightened the control Egypt and Israel exert over Gaza by severely restricting travel via the Rafah border crossing.

“I think this is happening now because they’ve come to the realisation that Sisi has some staying power and his war on the Brotherhood is for real,” said Grant Rumley, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies and co-author of a forthcoming biography of Mr Abbas.

Mr Rumley said the document might be seen as undercutting Mr Abbas before his visit to Washington. The Palestinian president and leader of the Fatah movement has heaped pressure on Hamas by slashing salaries for Palestinian Authority employees based in Gaza and cutting off electricity supplies to the impoverished coastal enclave.

Hamas broke ranks with Fatah in 2007, leaving Mr Abbas in control in the West Bank and Hamas ruling in Gaza.

Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at Israel’s Institute of National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said during a conference call organised by the Israel Project, an advocacy group, that the document was the outcome of “huge pressures” exerted on Hamas by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, expected to be significant partners in Mr Trump’s proposed regional peace process, as well as European countries.

Via FT