Mahmoud Abbas

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محمود عباس
Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas

3rd President of the Palestinian National Authority
Assumed office 
January 15, 2005
Preceded by Rauhi Fattouh (Interim)
Succeeded by Incumbent

Born March 26, 1935 (1935-03-26)
British Mandate of Palestine Safed, British Mandate of Palestine
Nationality Palestinian
Political party Fatah
Spouse Amina

Mahmoud Abbas (Arabic: محمود عباس) (born March 26, 1935), commonly known by the kunya or nom de guerre Abu Mazen (ابو مازن), was elected President 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 served as the first Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority from March to October 2003 when he resigned citing lack of support from Israel and the United States as well as "internal incitement" against his government. Before being named Prime Minister, Abbas led the PLO's Negotiations Affairs Department. He has served as Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee since November 11, 2004, after Yasser Arafat's death. With Hamas now in control of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas is frequently portrayed as the face of Palestinian moderation.


Childhood and education

Mahmoud Ridha 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 attended school and graduated from the University of Damascus before going to Egypt where he studied law. Subsequently, Abbas entered graduate studies at the Peoples' Friendship University of Russia in Moscow, where he earned a Ph.D. in history. The thesis of Abbas's 1982 doctoral dissertation was The Secret Connection between the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement In 1984, a book based on Abbas's 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 wrote:

"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."

In his May 2003 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."

Involvement with politics

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

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 traveled 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 regarded as an intellectual pragmatist by some commentators. 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 the 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).

1972 Olympic Massacre

The Munich massacre occurred at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, when members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage by the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September, assumed to be an operational cover for Yasser Arafat's Fatah group. The attack led directly to the deaths of 11 Israeli athletes, five of the eight kidnappers, and one German police officer.

Mohammed Daoud Oudeh, one of those believed to have planned or executed the Munich attack, alleged that Mahmoud Abbas was responsible for funding the operation in his autobiography, Memoirs of a Palestinian Terrorist ( ISBN 1-55970-429-2). This allegation has not been confirmed by any other former members or affiliates of Black September, nor has it been verified by any historical studies.

Term as Prime Minister

Bush, center, discusses the Middle East peace process with Sharon and Abbas in Aqaba, Jordan, June 4, 2003.
Bush, centre, discusses the Middle East peace process with Sharon and Abbas in Aqaba, Jordan, June 4, 2003.

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 Israeli jail). Abbas's reputation as a pragmatist garnered him favour 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 undermine the post of Prime Minister, but eventually was forced to give Abbas some degree of 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.

President of the United States George W. Bush meets with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority during their trip to New York City for the United Nations General Assembly.
President of the United States George W. Bush meets with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority during their trip to New York City for the United Nations General Assembly.

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 honour a unilateral Palestinian cease-fire. However, continuing violence and Israeli "target killings" of known terrorists 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.

Abbas resigned from the post of Prime Minister in October 2003, citing lack of support from Israel and the United States as well as "internal incitement" against his government.

2005 presidential election

After Yasser Arafat's death Mahmoud Abbas was seen, at least by Fatah, as his natural successor.

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 Israeli forces arresting and restricting the movement of his running mates, Hamas's boycott of the election, and his campaign being given 94% of Palestine TV electoral campaign coverage, Abbas' election was virtually ensured, and on January 9 Abbas was elected with 62% of the vote as the new president of the Palestinian Authority. (See Palestinian presidential election, 2005 for election statistics.)

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.

Post 2005 presidential election

Vladimir Putin and Mahmoud Abbas during Putin's visit to the West Bank
Vladimir Putin and Mahmoud Abbas during Putin's visit to the West Bank

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 the President of the Palestinian National Authority 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 Palestinians 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.

"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.

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.

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

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

On May 25, Abbas gives Hamas a 10 day deadline to accept the 1967 cease-fire lines.

On June 2, Abbas again announced that if Hamas does not approve the prisoner's 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 June the 10th 2006. Hamas spokespeople stated that a change in their stance will not occur, and that Abbas is not constitutionally permitted to call a referendum, especially so soon after the January elections.

Mahmoud Abbas warned Hamas on October 8, 2006 that he will call new legislative elections if it does not accept a coalition government. To recognize Israel is a condition he has presented for a coalition. But it is not clear if Abbas has the power to call new elections.

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


  • "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)
  • "From here [the Gaza withdrawal], our people begin the march towards establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital"
  • "Today we are visitors to the airport (referring to Yaser Arafat International Airport), tomorrow we will come here as travellers." ( 19 August 2005)
  • “His Holiness was moved to receive this accolade from the people of Bethlehem and paid special attention to the message of the passport.” On giving the Bethlehem Passport to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. The citation refers to "all people who uphold a just and open society."
  • "I renew my commitment to continuing the road he [Arafat] began and for which he made a lot of sacrifices, until the Palestinian flag flies from the walls, minarets and churches of Jerusalem." (2005)

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