GAZA STRIP - Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has no mandate for resuming any kind of talks with Israel - direct or indirect - and he should resign his post, a senior Hamas official said on Thursday.
Earlier in the day, Abbas said he would resume U.S.-mediated, indirect negotiations with Israel, based on a decision by the Arab League.
Damascus-based Hamas official Izzat al-Rishq said that despite the Arab League's decision, Abbas lacked a national mandate for restarting talks with Israel.
"Mahmoud Abbas has to step aside. The Palestinian people want a solid leadership that leads them to their national rights and not a leadership that offers compromise after compromise," al-Rishq told Reuters.
"The decision to go back to the talks gives the Israeli enemy the cover to continue settlements. There will not be anything left to negotiate on," he said.
Arab League member nations, whose direction Abbas sought, approved four months of indirect negotiations led by Obama administration Middle East envoy George Mitchell.
Indirect negotiations are a sharp departure from Israel's insistence that only direct negotiations between the parties would yield an agreement. But after nearly a year of stalemate, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said indirect negotiations are better than nothing, though he hoped they would lead to direct talks.
"Our ultimate objective is to try to achieve a peace settlement with our Palestinian neighbors by means of direct talks," Netanyahu told reporters, "but we always said we don't necessarily insist on the format."
Netanyahu said talks could begin as early as next week when Mitchell returns to the region.
"I welcome the fact this ripening has begun, which I hope will lead to the start of talks with the visit of Senator [George] Mitchell to Israel next week," he said.
The Obama administration, which also welcomed the decision, is pushing forward with indirect talks.
Several Fatah officials criticized the resumption of peace talks with Israel.
In Ramallah, Fatah Central Committee spokesman Mohammad Dahlan said negotiations with Israel are pointless.
“In light of Israel’s acts, in particular the continued settlement and aggression against holy sites, there is no point to direct or indirect negotiations with the Israeli government,” Dahlan told Maan, the Palestinian news agency.
Another Fatah member said the Arab League’s decision could potentially lead “to a complete collapse of belief in negotiations.”
“The decision has landed the Palestinians with a problem and a challenge,” he said. “Up till now we have followed a policy according to which there is no point negotiating for the sake of negotiating, which indicated a certain change in the Palestinian leadership. However, another negotiating failure will lead to a complete collapse of belief in negotiations,” he said.
Abbas, whose official term ended in January 2009, said elections would be held the following January if reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, based on an Egyptian-mediated plan, wasn't achieved.
"Our Basic Law stipulates that elections must be held before 24 January 2010," Abbas told reporters after meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in October.
If Hamas agreed to reconciliation, elections would be postponed until June 2010, he said.
"According to the Egyptian document [the basis for a Hamas-Fatah unity government], elections should be held on the 28th of June 2010. If there is an agreement [with Hamas], we will abide by it, but if there is no agreement, we will abide by the Basic Law," Abbas said.
Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip since June 2007, when it defeated PA security forces in a bloody military coup.
Reuters and YNet.com contributed to this report.