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Mahmoud Abbas

(1935 - )

Mahmoud Abbas is a Palestinian political leader, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian National Authority.

Abbas (born March 26, 1935), also known as Abu Mazen, was born in Safed on March 26, 1935. He left Palestine for Syria as a refugee from the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 and later worked as an elementary teacher. He gained a BA in law from Damascus University and a Ph.D. from the Oriental College in Moscow in History. The theme of his doctoral dissertation was "The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism". Abbas worked as director of personnel in 's civil service and began to manage and organize Palestinian groups.

In the mid-1950's, Abbas becmae active in Palestinian politics, joining secret underground groups in Qatar and in 1961, Yasser Arafat recruited him to join Fatah. In 1968 he joined the Palestine National Council and the PLO Executive Committee. Abbas has headed the PLO Department for National and International Relations since 1980 and was elected by the PLO Executive Committee to replace Abu Jihad (assassinated in April 1988) as chairman of the portfolio on the Occupied Territories in May 1988. He was elected the Committee's secretary general in 1996, informally confirming his position as Yasser Arafat's deputy.

Abbas was the first PLO official to visit Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War in January 1993 and “apologized” to the Gulf countries for the PLO's stand during the crisis.

During the leadership of Arafat, Abbas was usually considered one of the leading Palestinian figures devoted to the search for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He advocated negotiations with Israel and initiated a dialogue with Jewish and pacifist movements in the 1970's. He led negotiations with Matiyahu Peled that resulted in the announcement of "principles of peace" based on a two-state-solution in January 1977. He also coordinated the negotiation process during the Madrid conference. His long contacts with Israeli leftists won him a reputation as a PLO dove and he headed the Palestinian negotiating team to the secret Oslo talks. It was Abbas who signed the 1993 peace accord with Israel on September 13, 1993, on behalf of PLO. Abbas has been the head of the PLO Negotiating Affairs Department since 1994 and signed the Interim Agreement in September 1995 on behalf of PLO.

In September 1995, after 48 years in exile, Abbas returned to the territories and took residences in Gaza and Ramallah. Abbas authored an account on the Oslo negotiations entitled Through Secret Channels: The Road to Oslo (1995). Together with his Israeli counterpart Yossi Beilin, Abbas drafted a controversial “Framework for the Conclusion of a Final Status Agreement Between Israel and the PLO” (better known as Abu-Mazen-Beilin Plan) in October 1995 (although its existence was denied for five years before being published in Sept 2000). He headed (with Uri Savir) the first session of the Israeli-PA final status talks in May 1996.

Though thought to be a moderate, Abbas made numerous radical statements, for example, claiming that the Nazis killed "only a few hundred thousand Jews," not six million.  In July 2014 Sultan Abu Al-Einein, one of Abbas's top advisors called for the murder of Israelis, stating "All of us are required to teach these settlers a harsh lesson...  Let every hour of the settler's presence on our land be a source of threat and terror for them.  Let us deprive their lives of security so that the Palestinian land becomes a minefield... the occupation must pay the price... and itself accept condolences for those Israelis killed". 

Abbas served as head of the Central Election Commission for the Palestine Legislative Council elections in January 1996 when he was elected as a representative for Qalqilya. In March 2003, he was named the first Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, but never was given full authority as Arafat insisted that all decision be cleared with him. More important, Arafat maintained control over several security services, which further undermined Abbas's authority. When Abbas explicitly refused to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in the PA, as required by the road map, the peace process faltered.

During his tenure as Prime Minister of the PA, Abbas was popular in the United States and with many Israelis, but never had the support of more than a tiny fraction of the Palestinian people. Though considered in the Arab world as the brains behind the PLO, he lacked Arafat's charisma and was considered by many Palestinians too conciliatory toward Israel. He resigned as Prime Minister in frustration on September 6, 2003, after just four months in office and was replaced by Ahmed Korei.

Following the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, Abbas was elected President of the Palestinian Authority on January 9, 2005, with 62% of the vote. In his victory speech, he called on Palestinian terror groups to end the use of violence against Israel, however he has rarely taken any concrete actions to see this to fruition.  One year later, Abbas announced that he would not seek reelection at the end of his four year term, telling the Palestinian media: "I will just complete my remaining three years in office, I will not run again. That is absolute."

In May 2006, Abbas travelled to the White House and met with US President George W. Bush who, in return for Abbas' supposed crackdown on terrorism, pledged $50 million in aid to the PA and reiterated the US desire for a free Palestinian state.

In June 2007, mere months after forming a unity government with Hamas and installing Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh as PA Prime Minister, Abbas declared a state of emergency, dissolved the government, and installed Salam Fayyad in Haniyeh's place. In response, Hamas began a brutal seige of Fatah positions in Gaza, forcefully overtaking the group and declared themselves as rulers in the small enclave.  Haniyeh continued to operate as Prime Minister in Gaza.

In March 2008, Abbas suspended ongoing peace talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and later that year pledged to resign from his post if the current round of peace talks had not yielded an agreement in principle "within six months."

In January 2009, Abba's term as President officially ended, however he extended the term another year by stating that the Palestinian Basic Law gave him the right to do so.

In an interview with Egyptian television on Wednesday October 15, 2014, Abbas stated that he would not compete for another term as Palestinian Authority President if elections were held soon.  After the stress caused by Operation Protective Edge he said that he would appreciate a rest from political life. 

In August 2015 Abbas suddenly resigned as chairman of the Executive Committee of the PLO, in a move that analysts explained as a consolidation of his power. When Abbas stepped down he forced the Parliament into session, needing to elect a new chairman within 30 days. The Israeli government restricts travel of Palestinian legislators living in Gaza, and it is likely they will choose to not let the legislators living in Gaza attend the meeting of the PLO on September 15 where they will be voting on a new chairman. This would leave mostly Abbas loyalists in the West Bank to vote, thus bolstering Abbas's standing and reaffirming his legitimacy.

During an address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 30, 2015, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asserted that the PA was no longer bound by the Oslo Accords as well as all subsequent agreements between the PA and Israel.

The brother-in-law of Mahmoud Abbas received life-saving heart surgery in a private Israeli hospital in Tel Aviv during October 2015. Abbas's wife's brother underwent surgery at the Assuta Medical Center and is expected to make a full recovery.

President Donald Trump embarked on his first foreign trip as President on May 19, 2017, with plans to visit Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, and then various European nations on a 9-day trip.  During Trump's visit to Israel he also took time to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.  While initial reports surfaced of a cordial meeting, this was soon disproven by officials with knowledge of the exchange.  Trump allegedly laid into Abbas, screaming at him that he had deceived me [Trump] in Washington, after being shown by the Israelis that Abbas personally ha[s] a hand in incitement.  

Sources: MSNBC, (December 6, 2001);
JTA (March 12, 2003);
“Abbas derides Hamas talk of ‘victory’ in war against Israel,” Times of Israel, (October 16, 2014);
Al-Mughrabi, Nidal/Sawafta, Ali. “Abbas heats up Palestinian politics in PLO reshuffle bid,” Reuters (August 27, 2015);
Gladstone, Rick/Rudoren, Jodi. “Mahmoud Abbas, PA President, says he is no longer bound by Oslo Accords,” New York Times (September 30, 2015);
“Abbas brother-in-law gets life-saving surgery in Israel,” Times of Israel (October 23, 2015);
Keinon, Herb.  Official says Palestinian terror glorification going out of style under Trump, Jerusalem Post, (May 28, 2017);