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Date published: 12/8/2012
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, frozen since 2008, seem to have collapsed altogether. Abbas's recent success at the U.N., where he won recognition of a de facto state, angered the Israeli government, which insists Palestinian statehood should be reached through a peace agreement and talks.
Mashaal's visit came just two weeks ago after the bloodiest round of Israel-Gaza violence in four years.
Hamas perceives it came out on top in the fighting because it managed to hold its own despite heavy Israeli airstrikes. It succeeded in maintaining an almost constant barrage of rocket attacks on Israeli cities, with some exploding in the Jewish heartland for the first time near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Millions of Israelis were in range of the Palestinian attacks.
Eight days of fighting ended with an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that stipulated Israel would stop targeting militants. That, along with unprecedented support from Egypt, allowed Mashaal to make the visit without fear.
As a result of that truce, Israel, which officially shuns Hamas as a terrorist group because of suicide bombings and other attacks against civilians, is now conducting indirect talks with Hamas through Egypt.
In a sign of how touchy Israel is on the issue, Danny Danon, a lawmaker from Netanyahu's Likud party, denied that indirect talks were taking place.
"We speak with Hamas in the only language they understand which is weapons," Danon said.
"Gaza is heating up as a greenhouse for terrorism and I have no doubt that Mashaal did not come to promote peace but rather to promote violence against Israel," he said.
Hamas has received a boost from the rise of its parent movement, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, following Arab Spring revolts--especially in Egypt.
Deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak barely tolerated Hamas. He cooperated with Israel on a blockade of Gaza after 2007, when Hamas seized control of the territory in bloody street battles from Abbas' Fatah faction.