Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday appeared to have been wrong-footed for the second time in a week by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, after the latter called the Holocaust “the most heinous crime” in modern times.

As he took to American airwaves to call Abbas’ statement a PR stunt, it was Abbas, who turns 80 next year, who appeared to be out-foxing Bibi, after forming an alliance with Hamas then “expressed his sympathy with families of the victims”.

He added: “The Holocaust is a reflection of the concept of ethnic discrimination and racism, which the Palestinians strongly reject and act against.”

Abbas’ comments, on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), were noted for their timing as well as their content, with the wily Fatah leader going further than many Arab leaders in recognising the suffering of Jews under Nazi rule.

His statement captured the world’s attention and brought praise from Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, which said the comments “might signal a change”.

But stony-faced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to bring himself to welcome the comment, saying instead that Abbas was simply making statements “designed to placate global public opinion”.

Continuing his long-standing argument, Netanyahu said: “Abbas needs to choose between the alliance with Hamas, a terrorist organisation that calls for the destruction of Israel and denies the Holocaust, and a true peace with Israel.”

Recalling his bruising and unsuccessful recent PR battle with Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani, analysts were unimpressed with Netanyahu’s performances.

Smoke trails are seen after Hamas rockets were fired in the southern Gaza Strip towards southern Israel earlier this year.

Smoke trails are seen after Hamas rockets were fired in the southern Gaza Strip towards southern Israel earlier this year.with Netanyahu’s performance.

Writing in Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Chemi Shalevi said the impression was one of “a Palestinian leadership that appears to be stretching out its hand to Israel and to the Jewish people on their day of collective mourning and an Israeli leadership that seems resentful and petulant and determined to deploy Abbas’ statement as yet another weapon in its endless and largely futile hasbara wars over Israel’s image.”

Meanwhile, Abbas said any unity government with Hamas would follow his political programme, in an apparent attempt to reassure the West.

Abbas was speaking to the Palestinian Central Council, a top decision-making body, two days after Israel halted negotiations over the reconciliation deal.

Israel’s leaders accused Abbas of choosing Hamas over possible peace with Israel.

However, the suspension came at a time when talks were close to collapse and had achieved no results after nine months.

The Abbas-Hamas deal envisions an interim government in a month and general elections by winter. The Palestinian split came in 2007 when Hamas seized Gaza and reconciliation efforts failed. Abbas says any unity government would work “under my orders and my policy”.