Mahmoud Abbas

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محمود عباس
Mahmoud Abbas
محمود عباسMahmoud Abbas
Term of office January 15, 2005 – present
Preceded by Rauhi Fattouh
Succeeded by Incumbent
Date of birth March 26, 1935
Place of birth Safed (then British Mandate of Palestine)
Spouse Amina
Political party Fatah

Mahmoud Abbas (Arabic: محمود عباس) (born March 26, 1935), commonly known as Abu Mazen (ابو مازن), was elected President (Ra'ees) of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) on January 9, 2005 and took office on January 15, 2005.

Abbas is a leading politician in Fatah. He has served as Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), since November 11, 2004, after Yasser Arafat's death. He served as the first Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority from March to October 2003 when he resigned amid a power struggle with Arafat. Before being named Prime Minister, Abbas led the PLO's Negotiations Affairs Department. His reputation in the West is that of a moderating influence in the Palestinian Authority

His name Abu Mazen is an honorific title, expressing popular esteem within Palestinian society. It means "father of Mazen", and refers to his eldest son. It is common for Arab men to be named in this way.



Youth and education

Abbas was born in 1935 in Safed, then part of the British Mandate of Palestine. His family became refugees during the war of 1948 and settled in Syria. In Syria he taught school and graduated from the University of Damascus before going to Egypt where he studied law. Subsequently, Abbas entered graduate studies at the Oriental College in Moscow, where he earned a Ph.D. in history. In 1982, Abbas wrote a doctoral dissertation, referring to so-called "Holocaust deniers", claiming secret ties between the Nazis and the Zionist movement. In 1984, a book based on Abbas' doctoral dissertation was published in Arabic by Dar Ibn Rushd publishers in Amman, Jordan. His doctoral thesis later became a book, The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism, which, following his appointment as Palestinian Prime Minister in 2003, was heavily criticized as an example of Holocaust denial. In his book, Abbas raised doubts that gas chambers were used for the extermination of Jews, and suggested that the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust was "less than a million." In an interview with Haaretz in May 2003, he claimed merely to have been quoting the wide range of scholarly disagreement over the Holocaust, but no longer harbored any desire to argue with the generally accepted figures; he further affirmed his belief that "the Holocaust was a terrible, unforgivable crime against the Jewish nation, a crime against humanity that cannot be accepted by humankind".

Involvement with politics

In the mid 1950s Abbas became heavily involved in underground Palestinian politics, joining a number of exiled Palestinians in Qatar, where he was Director of Personnel in the emirate's Civil Service. While there, he recruited a number of people who would become key figures in the Palestine Liberation Organization, and was one of the founding members of Fatah in 1957. Yasser Arafat was among other key members.

Throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, Abbas travelled with Arafat and the rest of the PLO leadership in exile to Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia (see article on Yasser Arafat for details). Though he garnered little attention particularly in the Western media, Abbas is said to have had a powerful behind-the-scenes influence on the PLO. He is by some commentators regarded as an intellectual pragmatist. He is credited with initiating secretive contacts with left-wing and pacifist Jewish groups during the 1970s and 80s, and is considered by many to be a major architect of the 1993 Oslo peace accords (evidenced in part by the fact that he traveled with Arafat to the White House to sign the accords).

At the same time he has performed diplomatic duties, presenting a moderating face for PLO policies. Abbas was the first PLO official to visit Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War in January 1993 to mend fences with the Gulf countries for the PLO's opposition to US attack on Iraq during the crisis. At the 1993 peace accord with Israel, Abbas was the signatory for the PLO on September 13, 1993. he published a memoir Through Secret Channels: The Road to Oslo (1995).

Term as Prime Minister

By early 2003, as both Israel and the United States had indicated their refusal to negotiate with Yasser Arafat, Abbas began to emerge as a candidate for a more visible leadership role. As one of the few remaining founding members of Fatah, he had some degree of credibility within the Palestinian cause, and his candidacy was bolstered by the fact that other high-profile Palestinians were for various reasons not suitable (the most notable, Marwan Bargouti, was under arrest in an Israel jail). Abbas's reputation as a pragmatist garnered him favor with the West and certain elements of the Palestinian legislature, and pressure was soon brought on Arafat to appoint him Prime Minister. Arafat did so on March 19, 2003; initially Arafat attempted to eviscerate the post of Prime Minister, but eventually was forced to give Abbas some degree of real power.

However, the rest of Abbas's term as Prime Minister continued to be characterized by numerous conflicts between him and Arafat over the distribution of power between the two. Abbas had often hinted he would resign if not given more control over the PA's administration. In early September 2003 he confronted the PA parliament over this issue. The United States and Israel accused Arafat of constantly undermining Abbas and his government.

In addition, Abbas came into conflict with Palestinian militant groups, notably Islamic Jihad and Hamas; his moderate pragmatic policies were diametrically opposed to their hard-line approach. Initially he pledged not to use force against the militants, in the interest of avoiding a civil war, and instead attempted negotiation. This was partially successful, resulting in a pledge from the two groups to honor a unilateral Palestinian cease-fire. However, continuing violence and Israeli "target murders" forced Abbas to pledge a crackdown in order to uphold the Palestinian Authority's side of the Road Map for Peace. This led to a power struggle with Arafat over control of the Palestinian security services; Arafat refused to release control to Abbas, thus preventing him from using them in a crackdown on militants.


On September 4, 2003, demonstrations and threats against Abbas peaked in death threats. Two days later on September 6, he called a closed session of the Palestinian Legislative Council detailed his reasons and submitted his resignation from the post of Prime Minister, citing inability to carry out his duties in the face of continual opposition from Arafat and others in the Palestinian Authority, as well as a lack of support from Israel and the United States. He presided over a "caretaker" government until his successor Ahmed Qurei was sworn in on October 7, 2003.

Following these events, Abbas dropped out of the public eye for a time but was seen in January 2004 carrying out talks with Palestinian factions in Gaza. Abbas was back in the public eye after Yasser Arafat died and Abbas became the chairman of the PLO.

In an interview with Newsweek on June 13, 2004, Abbas revealed that a major reason for his resignation was that he felt his life was in danger due to increasingly hostile protests against his leadership. When asked "How many of these things were instigated by Chairman Arafat?", he responded, "I wouldn't want to mention anyone by name. But I'll give you something to understand; I don't have any relationship with the chairman from the resignation to this day."

2005 presidential election

After Yasser Arafat's death Mahmoud Abbas was seen, at least by Fatah, as his natural successor. However, this view wasn't shared by everyone; when, during Abbas' November 14, 2004, visit to a tent set up for mourners of Arafat in Gaza City, gunfire erupted, killing two and wounding four, the assumption was easily made that the attack had been an attempt on Abbas' life. Abbas himself remained unharmed, and the incident was downplayed.

On November 25, Abbas was endorsed by Fatah's Revolutionary Council as its preferred candidate for the Palestinian presidential election, scheduled for January 9, 2005.

On December 14, Abbas called for an end to violence in the Al-Aqsa Intifada and a return to peaceful resistance. Abbas told the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that "the use of arms has been damaging and should end". However, he refused to disarm Palestinian militants and use force to act against groups that Israel, the United States, and the European Union designated as "terrorist organizations".

With his main contender, Marwan Bargouti, dropping out of the race, Abbas' election was virtually ensured, and on January 9 Abbas was elected by a large majority as the new president of the Palestinian Authority. (See Palestinian presidential election, 2005 for election statistics.)

Upon acceptance, confusion over his position suddenly emerged after statements made to the crowd chanting "a million shahids". Abbas stated, "I present this victory to the soul of brother shahid [martyr] Yassir Arafat and to our shahids," then promised to protect the "strugglers" wanted by Israel for "terrorist" attacks[1]. But he also said that "the little jihad is over, and now we have the bigger jihad - the bigger battle is achieving security and economic growth"[2].

Post 2005 presidential election

Despite Abbas' call for a peaceful solution, attacks by militant groups continued after his election, in a direct challenge to his authority. Islamic Jihad launched a raid in Gaza on January 12, killing one and wounding three military personnel in Gaza. On January 13, Palestinians from Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Hamas, and the Popular Resistance Committees launched a suicide attack on the Karni crossing, killing six Israelis. As a result, Israel shut down the damaged terminal and broke off relations with Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, stating that Abbas must now show a gesture of peace by attempting to stop such attacks.

Abbas was formally sworn in as president in a ceremony held on January 15 in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

On January 23, 2005, Israeli radio reported that Abbas had secured a 30-day ceasefire from Hamas and Islamic Jihad. On February 12, lone Palestines attacked Israel settlements and Abbas quickly fired some of his security officers for not stopping the attacks in a ceasefire.

On April 9, 2005, Abbas said that the killing of three Palestinians in southern Gaza by Israeli soldiers is a deliberate violation of the declared ceasefire deal. "This violation is made on purpose," Abbas said in a written statement sent to reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Abbas made the statement shortly after three Palestinian teenage boys were shot dead by Israeli troops in the southern Gaza town of Rafah. Israel claimed they thought the boys were attempting to smuggle weapons, while Palestinians claimed a group of boys were playing soccer and three of them went to retrieve the ball near the border fence. [3]

"The Palestinian National Authority will not turn a blind eye to the shedding of the blood of our people and our children. We can never accept opening fire at our children who pose no danger at all," said Abbas. Abbas said the Palestinian children "are as precious to their parents as the Israeli children to their parents." Condemning the Israeli shooting as "unjustified", Abbas urged Israel to take serious actions to show commitment to the truce.

In May of 2005, Abbas travelled to the White House and met with President George W Bush of the United States. Bush, in return for Abbas' crackdown on terrorists, pledged $50 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority and reiterated the U.S. pledge for a free Palestinian state. It was the first direct aid the United States has given to them, as previous donations have gone through non-governmental organizations. The next day Prime Minister Paul Martin of Canada pledged $9.5 million in new aid for judicial reform and housing projects, monitors for the coming Palestinian elections, border management and scholarships for Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon. [4]

On July 25, 2005 he announced that he will move his office to Gaza until the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops. He will also be co-ordinating the Palestinian side of the withdrawal, and to mediate between the different factions. [5]

On August 9, 2005, he announced that Palestinian legislative elections, originally scheduled for July 17, will take place in January of 2006. [6]


  • "There is absolutely no substitution for dialogue." (2003)
  • "The little jihad is over, and now we have the bigger jihad - the bigger battle is achieving security and economic growth" (2005) [7]
  • "From here [the Gaza withdrawal], our people begin the march towards establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital" [8]
  • "Today we are visitors to the airport (refering to Yaser Arafat International Airport), tomorrow we will come here as travellers." (19 August 2005)

See also

External links

Preceded by:
Rawhi Fattuh
President of the Palestinian Authority
2005 – present
Succeeded by:
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