RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) - Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas on Monday gave the Hamas movement, which controls Gaza an end-of-year deadline to resume dialogue with his leadership or face snap elections.
"We reiterate today that we are going to set a deadline of the end of the year for the launch of a national dialogue," Abbas said in a televised address.
"If our appeal goes unheeded, we will call fresh presidential and parliamentary elections.
" The Western-backed president said the new elections would be "based entirely on a proportional representation system," not the half proportional, half constituency-based system used in the last parliamentary elections in 2006 that saw Hamas win an upset victory.
The switch, which Abbas adopted into law in September last year, is seen as a way of allowing elections to go ahead in the West Bank even if Hamas does not allow them to take place in Gaza.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told a news conference in his base in exile in Damascus.
"Why all these threats to hold snap elections in the New Year if there is no agreement on reconciliation? It shows they only want reconciliation for a limited period to get them past January 9.
" The Hamas movement which controls the Gaza Strip dismissed on Monday Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas's appointment as president of Palestine by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
Senior Hamas official Mahmud Zahar told a Gaza City news conference that the move by the PLO Central Council was just a desperate attempt by Abbas supporters to preserve his authority beyond the expiry of his term of office as authority president in January.
Sunday's vote in the Central Council, a key decision-making body of the PLO which established the Palestinian Authority after the 1993 Oslo accords, "bears testament to the crisis which Abbas faces from January 9," Zahar said.
"The concept of a state requires a land, a people and a government.
And in order to be representative, the president of this state must be elected by the people and not appointed by a body lacking any legitimacy like the Central Council.
"He seems to think that this political manoeuvre will get him out of the crisis.
" Hamas has made clear that from January 9, the day after Abbas's term of office expires, it will no longer recognise him as Palestinian Authority president.
Abbas's supporters had argued that a clause in the electoral law providing for presidential elections to be held simultaneously with parliamentary elections due in January 2010 superseded the provisions of the basic law for a four-year presidential term.
But on Sunday, Abbas announced that if troubled reconciliation talks with Hamas fail to bear fruit he would call snap presidential and parliamentary elections in the New Year, dissolving the current Hamas-dominated legislature.
Hamas swiftly rejected the president's threat, noting that the basic law gives him no powers to dissolve parliament early.
"Abu Mazen (Abbas) has the right to call a presidential election for January as his term of office ends then," Zahar said.
"As for the parliamentary elections, they must be held in January 2010.
" Hamas pulled out of Egyptian-brokered reconciliation talks with Abbas's Fatah Faction earlier this month, accusing his security forces of rounding up their supporters in the occupied West Bank.
They have said repeatedly that they are ready to rejoin the talks provided that the "political prisoners" are freed.
Hamas has never formed part of the PLO, which is made up of the historic Palestinian factions.
Nor has it ever signed up to the PLO's programme supporting a two-state solution for the Middle East conflict.
The post of Palestine president was created by the PLO after it declared Palestinian independence at a meeting in Algiers in 1988 at which they also adopted the two-state solution.
PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat was appointed to the post the following year, but when Abbas took over as PLO chairman on Arafat's death in 2004, he was never appointed Palestine president.