Hamas will cease to recognize Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian president after Jan. 8 and replace him with one of its own leaders, according to a resolution approved by the Islamic movement's legislators today.
The Hamas resolution demands that Abbas issue a decree by Wednesday to hold new presidential elections within three months, to coincide with what Hamas says is the end of his term.
Abbas' aides said the resolution was aimed at pressuring the president, a political moderate, in anticipation of a new attempt by Egypt to mediate a power-sharing deal between the rival groups, and is certain to deepen the split between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement.
"I believe Hamas is coming to this point just to undermine the national dialogue before it starts in Cairo," said Abbas aide Nimer Hamad referring to the Egyptian-brokered talks expected to begin next month.
If Hamas does withdraw recognition of Abbas, it would sever another link between the two sides and undermine Abbas' legitimacy in the eyes of many Palestinians.
Abbas, the leader of the Fatah movement, was elected president in January 2005. A year later, Hamas defeated Fatah by a landslide in parliamentary elections.
Hamas has been in control of Gaza since its violent takeover of the territory in June 2007, leaving Abbas only in charge of the West Bank.
Parliament in Gaza; empty seats for legislators jailed in Israel (Photo: AP)
The Basic Law, a forerunner to a Palestinian constitution, says both president and parliament are elected to four-year terms. Before leaving office, the Fatah parliament passed a law stipulating that future presidential and parliamentary elections be held simultaneously.
However, the Hamas-controlled parliament never amended the Basic Law to include this new clause. As a result, Hamas argues Abbas' term ends in January, while Fatah says he can stay in office an extra year.
If Abbas does not step aside in January, Hamas says it will install deputy parliament speaker Ahmed Bahar of Hamas as Abbas' temporary successor until elections are held.
The job would normally go to the parliament speaker, Abdel Aziz Dueik, but he is in an Israeli jail, along with scores of other Hamas lawmakers from the West Bank. Bahar said today he would accept the job, if asked.
The resolution left a loophole, suggesting that Abbas' term could be extended by parliament if deemed to be in the "national interest."
Reconciliation appears increasingly unlikely, since neither side appears to have a compelling interest to share power.
Hamas has consolidated control of Gaza and kept the territory afloat despite a virtual blockade of its borders, while Abbas would risk Western support if he agreed to a partnership with the militants. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the US and European Union.