Hamas elects Ismail Haniyeh to lead political office

Haniya, seen as a pragmatist within Hamas, was elected by its Shura Council Saturday.

Considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, Hamas has taken steps in recent days that are seen as a bid to ease its worldwide isolation while not alienating hardliners within the movement.

Last week, Hamas unveiled a new policy document that presents softened language on Israel, while still calling for its destruction.

In recent weeks, the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, has cut the wages of state employees in Gaza by up to a third while also informing Israel it will no longer pay for electricity being sent to Gaza.

The original 1988 charter will not be dropped, just supplemented, the movement said.

"The question is how is Hamas going to build on this momentum", he said, speaking in English.

Ismail Haniya was named the new chief of Hamas Saturday, a spokesman for the Palestinian Islamist movement in Gaza said.

"Meshaal had already set in motion a new phase", he told AFP.

Haniya, as the leader of Hamas in Gaza since 2006, was associated with the political wing of the movement that, at least nominally, is more involved with diplomacy and governance and less directly with armed struggle. He was the private secretary of Hamas' founder and spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin. A Gaza-based leadership might have fewer contacts with regional allies, he said.

A few weeks ago Hamas released a revised version of its 1988 Charter, a document that defined the objective and vision of Hamas as the violent destruction of the Jewish State of Israel. Haniyeh, a former prime minister, competed for the post along with senior Hamas leaders Moussa Abu Marzouk and Mohammed Nazzal.

According to the Protocol on Economic Relations, a.k.a. the Paris Protocol, signed by Israel and the PLO in April 1994, Israel collects and transfers to the Palestinian Authority the import taxes on goods that were shipped there, and the income taxes collected from PA residents employed in Israel and the Israeli settlements.

The two countries have been imposing a border blockade on Gaza since Hamas took control in 2007.

"I hope (Haniya) makes good decisions for the Palestinians he aspires to lead".

In the video, the Israeli prime minister is then seen crumbling up a copy of the new Hamas addendum, and throwing it into a trash can.

The Israeli government has said the document aimed to deceive the world that Hamas was becoming more moderate.

"We don't also have to lie to ourselves", Netanyahu said.

The balance of power within Hamas, which Israel, the United States, and much of the West define as a terrorist organization, has been shifting to Gaza, experts say.

Haniyeh, who also served as Mashaal's deputy for four years, is a familiar figure in Gaza, a tiny sliver of land on the Mediterranean with 2 million people.