The leader of Palestinian terror group Hamas called on US President Donald Trump Wednesday to break with past approaches to Middle East peace and use pressure to find an “equitable solution” for Palestinians.
Khaled Mashaal’s comments in a series of interviews came as Trump was due to receive Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas at the White House to explore avenues for reviving the deadlocked peace process.
The interviews followed the publication of Hamas’s new political program Tuesday night, which softened the terror group’s language on Israel and Jews while still calling for the destruction of the Jewish state.
“This is a historic opportunity to pressure Israel, to find an equitable solution for the Palestinian people,” Mashaal said in an interview with CNN.
When asked if he really believed Trump was up to the task, Mashaal said he believed the current administration has a “greater threshold for boldness” than its predecessors.
Since 1997, the US has designated Hamas as a terrorist group.
“This is a plea from me to the Trump administration…break out from the wrong approaches of the past, which did not arrive at a result … grab the opportunity presented by Hamas’s document,” he said.
Mashaal is slated to be replaced at the end of the month after 21 years as Hamas’s global political chief.
Abbas too has said the election of Trump is a “historic” opportunity to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The US president said he is seeking to strike “the ultimate deal” between the two sides, and expressed willingness to accept either a one-state or two-state solution.
According to Mashaal, Hamas’s new political document, which the group said does not negate its 1987 charter that has been widely condemned for its anti-Semitism, is an opportunity for world capitals “to engage seriously with Hamas, Palestinians and Arabs and pressure the intransigent side, which is Israel.”
In a separate interview with Al Jazeera on Tuesday, Mashaal said he believed the “Trump administration has not made clear its ideas regarding the Palestinian issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
He added the he thinks the Palestinian issue is not “considered a priority” for Washington, which is busy with issues like Russia, Syria and Iraq.
US Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that Trump is “personally committed to resolving the Israeli and Palestinian conflict” and “valuable progress” is being made.
Hamas has publicly warned Trump not to fulfill his campaign promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, saying the step would lead to violence.
But Pence on Tuesday said Trump is still “giving serious consideration” to moving the embassy.
Hamas won’t renounce violence
In his interview with CNN, Mashaal said Hamas’s new policy document would not change the terror group’s commitment to using violence against Israeli civilians.
When asked if Hamas would cease its violence, stop firing rockets at Israeli cities or tunneling into Gaza border towns, Mashaal responded, “We do not practice violence. We practice legitimate resistance. If the occupation and the resistance are gone, then there is no need to use force or resistance.”
Hours before Hamas presented the modified charter, Israel preempted it to say that while the group may be seeking to put on a friendlier face, it still practices genocidal policies.
“When Hamas stops building tunnels and spends its resources on civilian infrastructure and ceases educating toward killing Israelis — that will be true change. But that hasn’t happened,” a statement issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.
“Hamas is attempting to fool the world, but it will not succeed,” David Keyes, a spokesperson for Netanyahu, told The Times of Israel.
Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since it took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 in a violent conflict with Abbas’s ruling Fatah party.
In an interview with The New York Times on Tuesday, Mashaal said one of his greatest achievements as Hamas’s leader was the group’s survival.
“It gives me pride that the people of Gaza have remained steadfast under Hamas despite three devastating wars,” he said.
When asked whether he would drop out of political life after stepping down as head of Hamas, Mashaal responded, “A resistance fighter never retires.”
AFP contributed to this report.