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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Envoy Says Hamas May Soften Stance

A day before Hamas leaders were to arrive for talks in an effort to win international legitimacy, the Palestinian envoy to Russia said Thursday that the militant group could modify its stance toward Israel to advance the interests of the Palestinian people.

"When a political party is in opposition, its voice will be louder and its interests will be different. But when they are in the government, they look at things differently," Bakir Abdel Munem said in an interview at the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Moscow on Thursday. "They will start to look after the interests of all the people, not only the people in their organization."

"I don't think that Hamas will change radically," because it continues to link the recognition of Israeli statehood "with the need to end the occupation" of the Palestinian territories, Munem said. "I don't mean that Hamas will change completely, but it will look at things from different angles, and looking from different angles means new scenery."

Led by Hamas' exiled political leader, Khaled Mashaal, the delegation is set to arrive on Friday for a two-day visit, the highlight of which will be talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"There is no set agenda," and the two sides will conduct "a friendly exchange of opinions," said Munem, who took up his post in Moscow earlier this year. Munem represents the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, which was defeated by Hamas in January's parliamentary elections.

Russia created uproar last month when it invited Hamas leaders to visit Moscow.

Russian diplomats have said they will urge Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel. Since issuing its invitation, Russia has sent conflicting signals, announcing that the Hamas leaders would talk only with the Foreign Ministry, while saying Russia might continue to supply arms to Palestinian police.

Despite this pledge, Israel and the United States have criticized Russia's invitation. Washington and the European Union have also threatened to suspend aid to the Palestinian Authority unless Hamas -- which is responsible for scores of suicide bombings and other violent attacks in Israel -- renounces violence and recognizes Israel.

Hamas has so far given no indication of how far it might be prepared to go to win international recognition. While thanking Russia for what they saw as political support, Hamas officials urged Moscow to provide economic aid, too.

"We will listen to the Russian government's vision on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and we will clarify our own vision," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Thursday, Reuters reported. "The visit in itself is a declaration of the failure of pressures exerted by the United States on the world to besiege Hamas. Now, Hamas is on the threshold of international legitimacy, thanks to the visit by Hamas leaders to Moscow."

Munem said that apart from the talks with the Foreign Ministry, Hamas would meet with representatives of local organizations, including Muslim NGOs and representatives of the Arab diaspora.

Patriarch Alexy II will also meet with Hamas representatives Sunday, a Russian Orthodox Church official said Thursday, Itar-Tass reported.

Munem refused to disclose other details of the Hamas leaders' visit, and referred all questions to the Foreign Ministry. Reached by telephone Thursday, a ministry spokesman declined to say which other government officials would meet with Hamas representatives. He would not confirm if the delegation would stay for three days to meet with Alexy on Sunday, rather than two days as previously announced.

While grateful for Russia's invitation, Hamas "would welcome a discussion of possible economic cooperation, too," said Osama Hamdan, a Hamas representative in Beirut, Lebanon, Itar-Tass reported.

Munem, however, declined to comment when asked to confirm if Hamas would ask for economic assistance.

Alexei Malashenko, a senior analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Moscow should be commended for its efforts to encourage the moderates in Hamas in their attempts to restrain the militant group's more hard-line wing.

Malashenko said he had little hope that the talks would result in Hamas either renouncing violence or recognizing Israel, as such a declaration would alienate its radical supporters at home and could prompt them to resume a campaign of terror. "This, of course, would be a triumph for Russian foreign policy, but it's rather unlikely," he said.

However, Hamas could still edge toward legitimacy and international recognition even without unequivocally renouncing violence, and could eventually be seen as a legitimate government if no terrorist attacks occur in Israel.

Whether Hamas moderates will manage to keep the terrorists at bay is an open question, Malashenko said.

If terrorist attacks resume before Hamas establishes its credibility, it may prompt Israel and the United States to try to oust the movement from power, Malashenko said, adding that this would sideline Russia from the international moderation effort for some time.

"The Russian leadership has begun a very constructive initiative with potentially great benefits, but it is a very risky game and the process hangs by a thread," Malashenko said.