Israelis fear Hamas 'terror state'

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There is almost no contact between the two peoples, separated as they are by a long and impenetrable fence, but the outcome of tomorrow's Palestinian elections will have a profound impact on the future course of Israeli politics.

Watching on the sidelines as the green flags of the Islamic movement fill Israeli television screens, the hard-line Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu predicted yesterday that a Hamas breakthrough would change the course of Israeli politics. "The danger is that Hamas will establish a terror state on the West Bank with the avowed aim of destroying Israel," he said, articulating a fear held across the political divide in Israel.

Israeli politicians are looking on, many in disbelief, as Palestinian voters on the other side of the fence prepare to reward Hamas for embracing the political process. Repeated public offers by Hamas to maintain its ceasefire - now in its second year - and signs that suicide bombings by militants are becoming a thing of the past are met with scarcely disguised scorn.

Mr Netanyahu outlined how his policy as premier, should he be elected, would be an even more vigorous assault on Palestinian hopes for a viable state. He would move the security fence even further inside the West Bank and Gaza to protect Israel's main airport, build further defences in the occupied Golan Heights, hold on to most of the illegally built settlements, and keep Jerusalem undivided.

Hamas, he said, was stockpiling weapons: "Sooner or later they will be in the hills over Tel Aviv airport and terrorism could again be a monumental threat to Israel."