Mahmoud Abbas

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Mahmoud Abbas
(Abu Mazen)
مَحْمُود عَبَّاس
Mahmoud Abbas September 2014.jpg
2nd President of the State of Palestine
Assumed office
8 May 2005
Acting: 8 May 2005 – 23 November 2008[1]
Preceded by Yasser Arafat
Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization
Assumed office
29 October 2004
Acting: 29 October 2004 – 11 November 2004
Preceded by Yasser Arafat
Succeeded by TBD
2nd President of the Palestinian National Authority
In office
15 January 2005 – 23 November 2008
Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei
Nabil Shaath (Acting)
Ahmed Qurei
Ismail Haniyeh
Salam Fayyad
Rami Hamdallah
Preceded by Rawhi Fattouh (interim)
Succeeded by Position abolished
Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority
In office
19 March 2003 – 6 September 2003 [2]
President Yasser Arafat
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Ahmad Qurei
Personal details
Born (1935-03-26) 26 March 1935 (age 85)
Safed, Mandatory Palestine
Political party Fatah
Spouse(s) Amina Abbas
Children Mazen Abbas
Yasser Abbas
Residence Ramallah, West Bank
Alma mater Damascus University
Patrice Lumumba Peoples' Friendship University
Religion Sunni Islam[3]
 • Abbas's term as President expired 15 January 2009, since then Aziz Duwaik has been recognised as President by the Haniyeh government in the Gaza Strip, while Abbas is recognised as President by the Fayyad government in the West Bank and all the states that recognise the independence of Palestine, as well as the UN.[4]

Mahmoud Abbas (Arabic: مَحْمُود عَبَّاس‎‎, Maḥmūd ʿAbbās; born 26 March 1935), also known by the kunya Abu Mazen (Arabic: أَبُو مَازِن‎‎, 'Abū Māzin), is the President of the State of Palestine and Palestinian National Authority.[5] He has been the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) since 11 November 2004 and has been Palestinian president since 15 January 2005 (Palestinian National Authority since 15 January 2005 and State of Palestine since 8 May 2005). Abbas is a member of the Fatah party.

Mahmoud Abbas was elected to serve until 9 January 2009 but, due to Palestinian internal conflict, he unilaterally extended his term for another year and continued in office, even half a decade after that second deadline expired. As a result, Fatah's main rival, Hamas announced that it would not recognise the extension or view Abbas as rightful president.[6][7][8] Abbas was chosen as the President of the Palestinian Authority by the Palestine Liberation Organization's Central Council on 23 November 2008,[9] a job he had held unofficially since 8 May 2005.[10]

Abbas served as the first Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority from March to September 2003.[11] Before being named prime minister, Abbas led the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department.

Personal life

Mahmoud Abbas was born on 26 March 1935 in Safed, in the Galilee region of Mandatory Palestine.[12] His family fled to Syria during the 1948 Palestine war.[12] Before going to Egypt, Abbas graduated from the University of Damascus where he studied law.

Abbas later entered graduate studies at the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, where he earned a Candidate of Sciences degree[13][14] (the Soviet equivalent of a PhD). The theme of his doctoral dissertation was "The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism".

He is married to Amina Abbas and they have had three sons. The eldest, Mazen Abbas, ran a building company in Doha and died in Qatar of a heart attack in 2002 at the age of 42.[15] The kunya of Abu Mazen means "father of Mazen". Their second son is Yasser Abbas, a Canadian businessman who was named after former PA leader Yasser Arafat.[16] The youngest son is Tareq, a business executive.

Abbas with President of the United States George W. Bush and Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon at the Red Sea Summit in Aqaba, Jordan, 4 June 2003

Political activism

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 in 1961, he was recruited to become a member of Fatah, founded by Yasser Arafat and 5 other Palestinians in Kuwait in the late 1950s.[17] At the time, Arafat was establishing the groundwork of Fatah by enlisting wealthy Palestinians in Qatar, Kuwait, and other Gulf States.

Abu Daoud, who planned the 1972 Munich massacre, where members of the Israeli team at the Munich Olympic Games were taken hostage, and which ended in the murder of eleven Israeli athletes and coaches as well as a West German policeman, wrote that funds for the operation were provided by Abbas, though without knowledge of the money's intended purpose.[18]

He was among the first members of Fatah to call for talks with moderate Israelis, doing so in 1977. In a 2012 interview he recalled, "[...] because we took up arms, we were in a position to put them down with credibility".[19]

Abbas 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 after the PLO's support of Iraq during the Persian Gulf War strained relations. In the Oslo I Accord, Abbas was the signatory for the PLO on 13 September 1993. He published a memoir, Through Secret Channels: The Road to Oslo (1995).[20]

In 1995, he and Israeli negotiator Yossi Beilin wrote the Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement, which was meant to be the framework for a future Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Political career

Abbas with Sharon and Bush in Aqaba, Jordan, 4 June 2003

By early 2003, as Israel and the United States refused 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 Barghouti, was under arrest in an Israeli jail after being convicted of multiple murders in an Israeli court). Abbas' reputation as a pragmatist garnered him favor with the West and some members of the Palestinian legislature. Under international pressure, on 19 March 2003, Arafat appointed Abbas Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority.

However, a struggle for power between Arafat and Abbas followed.[21] Abbas' term as prime minister was characterised by numerous conflicts between him and Arafat over the distribution of power. The United States and Israel accused Arafat of undermining Abbas and his government. Abbas hinted he would resign if not given more control over the administration. In early September 2003, he confronted the Palestinian parliament over this issue.

Abbas came into conflict with Palestinian militant groups, notably the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement and Hamas because his pragmatic policies were opposed to their hard-line approach. Initiall He resigned as leader of the PLO on 22 August 2015.[22] y, he pledged not to use force against the militants in the interest of avoiding a civil war, and 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 "targeted killings" of known leaders 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 on the militants. Abbas resigned as prime minister in September 2003, citing lack of support from Israel and the United States as well as "internal incitement" against his government.[2][11]

He announced his resignation as leader of the PLO on 22 August 2015.[22] As of December 2015, he was still acting as Chairman pending the approval by the Palestinian National Council.[23]

2005 presidential election

After Yasser Arafat's death, Mahmoud Abbas was seen, at least by Fatah, as his natural successor. On 25 November 2004, Abbas was endorsed by Fatah's Revolutionary Council as its preferred candidate for the presidential election, scheduled for 9 January 2005. On 14 December Abbas called for an end to violence in the Second 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, or was not able, to disarm Palestinian militants and use force against groups designated (by the Israeli government) as terrorist organisations.

With Israeli forces arresting and restricting the movement of other candidates, Hamas' boycott of the election, and his campaign being given 94% of the Palestinian electoral campaign coverage on TV, Abbas' election was virtually ensured,[24] and on 9 January Abbas was elected with 62% of the vote as President of the Palestinian National Authority.

In his speech, he addressed a crowd of supporters chanting "a million shahids", stating: "I present this victory to the soul of Yasser Arafat and present it to our people, to our martyrs and to 11,000 prisoners". He also called for Palestinian groups to end the use of arms against Israelis.[25]


Despite Abbas' call for a peaceful solution, attacks by militant groups continued after his election, in a direct challenge to his authority. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine launched a raid in Gaza on 12 January 2005, that killed one and wounded three Israeli military personnel.[26] On 13 January, Palestinians from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Hamas, and the Popular Resistance Committees launched a suicide attack on the Karni crossing, killing six Israelis.[26] 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.[27] Abbas was formally sworn in as the President of the Palestinian National Authority in a ceremony held on 15 January, in the West Bank town of Ramallah.[28]

On 9 August 2005, he announced that legislative elections, originally scheduled for 17 July, would take place in January 2006. On 20 August, he set the elections for 25 January.[29] On 15 January 2006, he declared that despite unrest in Gaza, he would not change the set date of the elections, unless Israel decided to prevent Palestinians in East Jerusalem from voting.[30] Hamas won a majority of votes in this vote.

On 16 January 2006, Abbas said that he would not run for office again at the end of his term.[31]

On 9 January 2009, Abbas term as president, at least as he was originally elected, ended. Abbas extended his term for another year, stating the Basic Law gave him the right to do so, so he could align the next presidential and parliamentary elections. Pointing to the Palestinian constitution, Hamas disputes the validity of this move, and considers Abbas' term to have ended, in which case Abdel Aziz Duwaik, Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council has become acting president. Abbas remains as the president even though his one-year extended term has expired.[8][32][33]

Corruption allegations

There are frequent allegations that officials of the Palestinian Authority, including Mahmoud Abbas, have systematically embezzled public funds.[34]

Abbas's mentor and predecessor, Yasser Arafat, was accused of embezzling billions of dollars of Palestinian money.[35][36] This perceived corruption of the Fatah leadership is believed to have contributed to a convincing win by Hamas in the January 2006 parliamentary election. Fatah leaders were accused of siphoning funds from ministry budgets, passing out patronage jobs, accepting favors and gifts from suppliers and contractors.[37]

The source for specific allegations against Abbas was one of Arafat's most trusted aides, Mohammed Rashid, accused by the PA of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars, who threatened to expose corruption scandals in the Palestinian Authority. For many years, Rashid served as Arafat's financial advisor and was given a free hand to handle hundreds of millions of dollars that were poured on the Palestinian Authority and the PLO by US, EU and Arab donors. According to Rashid Abbas's net worth was $US100 million[38]

On 10 July 2012 Abbas and his sons were attacked, in the US Congress, for their alleged corruption. The debate was entitled Chronic Kleptocracy: Corruption Within the Palestinian Political Establishment[39] In his testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia, Elliott Abrams stated that "Corruption is an insidious destroyer not only of Palestinian public finance but of faith in the entire political system. And it has certainly had an impact on potential donors. I can tell you from my own experience, as an American official seeking financial assistance for the PA from Gulf Arab governments, that I was often told "why should we give them money when their officials will just steal it?"[40][41]"

The conspicuous wealth of Abbas's own sons, Yasser and Tarek, has been noted in Palestinian society since at least 2009, when Reuters first published a series of articles tying the sons to several business deals, including a few that had U.S. taxpayer support.[42] In a Foreign Policy article author Jonathan Schanzer suggested four ways in which the Abbas family has become rich. They include monopolies on American made cigarettes sold in the territories; USAid funding; public works projects, such as road and school construction, on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and special preferences for retail enterprises. It was strongly implied that the sons lineage was the main credential in receiving these contracts.[43]

One of his sons, Yasser Abbas, (but not brother Tarek or father Mahmoud) filed a $10 million libel lawsuit in the United States District Court, District of Columbia, in September 2012 against Foreign Policy Group LLC and Schanzer alleging "false and defamatory statements. It seems every statement will be challenged, in a jury trial, if the court accepts jurisdiction."[44] Abbas also accused Schanzer of not contacting him for comment and of relying on untrustworthy sources of information. Abbas accused Schanzer of acting with malice and pursuing an agenda against the brothers, even though he also contended that he's a private citizen and not a public figure, so we wouldn't need to prove actual malice to win.[45] In reply, the magazine has argued that Abbas’ suit is aimed at intimidating his critics and stopping debate. "In the final analysis, the commentary falls well within the protections of both the First Amendment and the common law," lawyers for the magazine assert.[46]

Some analysts believed the Abbas family would not proceed with the case as it would allow Foreign Policy and Schanzer to dig in too deep into the PA's secret finances and records.[47] However, the case proceeded.

In September, 2013, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan dismissed the suit using D.C.'s anti-SLAPP measure. Sullivan determined the lawsuit intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandoned their criticisms or opposition.[48][48] The decision has been appealed.[49]

Relations with Israel

Abbas with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office.

On 23 January 2006, Israeli radio reported that Abbas had secured a thirty-day ceasefire from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. On 12 February, lone Palestinians attacked Israel settlements and Abbas quickly fired some of his security officers for not stopping the attacks during the ceasefire.

On 9 April 2006, Abbas said that the killing of three Palestinians in southern Gaza by Israeli soldiers was 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 capital 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.[50]

Abbas meets with then United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

On 25 July 2006, he announced that he would move his office to Gaza until the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops in order to coordinate the Palestinian side of the withdrawal, mediating between the different factions.[51]

Efraim Sneh, a former minister in the Israeli cabinet, has called Abbas the most "courageous partner we have had." He wrote that on 19 April 2006, following the elections in Israel but before Ehud Olmert was sworn in, he met with Abbas, and Abbas requested that negotiations resume immediately with the new Israeli government and that he be put in touch right away with a contact person to be appointed by the prime minister. Sneh reported that he immediately conveyed the substance of their meeting to the prime minister's office, but was told that the prime minister had no interest in the matter. Despite this, Sneh mentions that the Annapolis Conference convened a year and a half later, and that in September 2008, Prime Minister Olmert and Abbas came to understandings that would lead to an actual agreement.[52]

On 2 March 2008, Abbas stated he was suspending peace talks with Israel, while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed to press on with military operations against militants who have been launching home-made rockets into southern Israel.[53]

Abbas meets with then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On 20 May 2008, Abbas stated he would resign from his office if the current round of peace talks had not yielded an agreement in principle "within six months". He also stated that the current negotiations were, in effect, deadlocked: "So far, we have not reached an agreement on any issue. Any report indicating otherwise is simply not true."[54]

Abbas has since confirmed that he turned down an Israeli offer for a Palestinian state on nearly 95% of the West Bank. In September 2008, Olmert had presented him with a map that delineated the borders of the proposed PA state, for which Israel would annex 6.3 percent of the West Bank and compensate the Palestinians with 5.8 percent (taken from pre-1967 Israel), which Abbas stated he rejected out of hand, insisting instead to demarcate the June 4, 1967 borders of Palestine. He said that Olmert did not give a map of the proposal and that he could not sign without seeing the proposal. Abbas also said that he was not an expert on maps and pointed to Olmert's corruption investigation (he was later convicted).[55][56] Abbas said in October 2011 that he made a counteroffer to let Israel annex 1.9% of the West Bank.[57]

According to an International Crisis Group report, most Israeli officials "do not see [Abbas] as a peace partner but consider [him] a nonthreatening,violence-abhorring, strategic asset."[58]

Relations with Hamas

On 25 May, Abbas gave Hamas a ten-day deadline to accept the 1967 ceasefire lines.

On 2 June, Abbas again announced that if Hamas did not approve the prisoners' document—which calls for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict according to the 1967 borders—within two days, he would present the initiative as a referendum. This deadline was subsequently extended until 10 June 2006. Hamas spokesmen stated that their stance would not change, and that Abbas is not constitutionally permitted to call a referendum, especially so soon after the January elections.

Abbas warned Hamas on 8 October 2006, that he would call new legislative elections if it did not accept a coalition government. To recognize Israel was a condition he has presented for a coalition. But it was not clear if Abbas had the power to call new elections.[citation needed]

On 16 December 2006, Abbas called for new legislative elections, to bring an end to the parliamentary stalemate between Fatah and Hamas in forming a national coalition government.[59]

On 17 March 2007, a unity government was formed incorporating members of both Hamas and Fatah, with Ismail Haniyeh as Prime Minister and independent politicians taking many key portfolios.

On 14 June 2007, Abbas dissolved the Hamas-led unity government of Haniyeh, declared a state of emergency, and appointed Salam Fayyad in his place. This followed action by Hamas armed forces to take control of Palestinian Authority positions controlled by Fatah militias. The appointment of Fayyad to replace Haniyeh has been challenged as illegal, because under the Palestinian Basic Law, the president may dismiss a sitting prime minister, but may not appoint a replacement without the approval of the Palestinian Legislative Council. According to the law, until a new prime minister is thus appointed, the outgoing prime minister heads a caretaker government. Fayyad's appointment was never placed before, or approved by the Legislative Council.[60] For this reason, Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister has continued to operate in Gaza, and is recognised by a large number of Palestinians as the legitimate acting prime minister. Anis al-Qasem, a constitutional lawyer who drafted the Basic Law, is among those who publicly declared Abbas' appointment of Fayyad to be illegal.[61]

On 18 June 2007, the European Union promised to resume direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, and Abbas dissolved the National Security Council, a sticking point in the defunct unity government with Hamas.[62] That same day, the United States decided to end its fifteen-month embargo on the Palestinian Authority and resume aid, attempting to strengthen Abbas's West Bank government.[63] A day later, the Fatah Central Committee cut off all ties and dialogue with Hamas, pending the return of Gaza.[64]

Relations with foreign leaders

Abbas, Vladimir Putin, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan opened Moscow's Cathedral Mosque, 23 September 2015

In May 2009, he welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to the West Bank, who supported Abbas' goal of a Palestinian State.[65] Also in May 2009, Abbas made a visit to Canada, where he met with foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The same year Abbas visited Venezuela and met Hugo Chavez.[66]

In February 2010, Abbas visited Japan for the third time as Palestinian President. In this visit he met Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama. He also visited Hiroshima, the first such visit by a Palestinian leader, and spoke about the suffering of Hiroshima, which he compared to the suffering of the Palestinians.[67]

In July 2012, Abbas accused former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of fabricating a conversation between them and denied such a conversation took place. The specific quote he denied was, "I can't tell four million Palestinians only five thousand of them can go home,"[68][69] regarding the issue of Palestinian refugees. Abbas further said, "I'm not calling her a liar... I am saying we never had that conversation."[70] In response, Rice denied that she fabricated it. Her chief of staff, Georgia Godfrey, wrote, "Dr. Rice stands by her account of the conversation and what she wrote in her book."[71]

Published works and statements about the Holocaust

The Connection between the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement 1933 – 1945 is the title of Mahmoud Abbas' CandSc thesis, completed in 1982 at the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia, and defended at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In 1984 it was published as a book in Arabic titled "The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism" (Arabic: al-Wajh al-Akhar: al-'Alaqat as-Sirriya bayna an-Naziya wa's-Sihyuniya).

The dissertation and book discussed topics such as the Haavara Agreement. which the Third Reich agreed with the Jewish Agency to facilitate Jewish emigration to Palestine, in conjunction with the UK.[13][72] Some content of his thesis has been considered as Holocaust denial by critics, especially the parts disputing the accepted number of deaths in the Holocaust as well as the accusations that Zionist agitation was the cause of the Holocaust,[73] a charge that he denies in an interview stating that "The Holocaust was a terrible, unforgiveable crime against the Jewish nation, a crime against humanity that cannot be accepted by humankind. The Holocaust was a terrible thing and nobody can claim I denied it."[74] In 2013, he reasserted the veracity of the contents of his thesis which stated "the Zionist movement had ties with the Nazis".[75][76] The following year, he described the Holocaust as "the most heinous crime in modern history."[77]

The thesis of 1982 doctoral dissertation of Mahmoud Abbas, was "The Secret Connection between the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement".[78][79][80] In his 1983 book The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism based on the dissertation, Abbas denied that six million Jews had died in the Holocaust; dismissing it as a "myth" and a "fantastic lie".[81] At most, he wrote, "890,000" Jews were killed by the Germans. Abbas claimed that the number of deaths has been exaggerated for political purposes. "It seems that the interest of the Zionist movement, however, is to inflate this figure [of Holocaust deaths] so that their gains will be greater. This led them to emphasize this figure [six million] in order to gain the solidarity of international public opinion with Zionism. Many scholars have debated the figure of six million and reached stunning conclusions—fixing the number of Jewish victims at only a few hundred thousand."[73][80][82][83][84] In his March 2006 interview with Haaretz, Abbas stated, "I wrote in detail about the Holocaust and said I did not want to discuss numbers. I quoted an argument between historians in which various numbers of casualties were mentioned. One wrote there were 12 million victims and another wrote there were 800,000. I have no desire to argue with the figures. The Holocaust was a terrible, unforgivable crime against the Jewish nation, a crime against humanity that cannot be accepted by humankind. The Holocaust was a terrible thing and nobody can claim I denied it."[85] While acknowledging the existence of the Holocaust in 2006 and 2014,[86] Abbas has defended the position that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis to perpetrate it. In 2012, Abbas told Al Mayadeen, a Beirut TV station affiliated with Iran and Hezbollah, that he "challenges anyone who can deny that the Zionist movement had ties with the Nazis before World War II".[87]

  • Through Secret Channels (1995) Memoirs of the Oslo agreement


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Further reading

  • Encyclopedia of World Biography: Supplement #27 (Thomson-Gale, 2007) pp1–3

External links

Political offices
New office Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority
Succeeded by
Ahmed Qurei
Preceded by
Yasser Arafat
Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization
Preceded by
Rawhi Fattouh
President of the Palestinian National Authority
Title next held by
Yasser Arafat
President of the State of Palestine