Abbas, Mahmoud

Abbas, Mahmoud
also called Abu Mazen

born 1935, Zefat, Palestine [now in Israel]

Palestinian leader.

Abbas earned a law degree from the University of Damascus and a doctorate in history from Moscow State University. In the late 1950s he was one of the founders of Fatah, which spearheaded the Palestinian armed struggle and dominated the Palestine Liberation Organization. In the 1990s Abbas shaped Palestinian negotiating strategy in peace talks that led in 1993 to the Oslo Accords, in which Israel and the Palestinians extended to each other mutual recognition and which called for Israel to cede some authority over the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the Palestinians. He briefly served as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority in 2003 and was elected its president in 2005.

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▪ 2004

      After months of intense international pressure, Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, was installed as Palestinian prime minister on April 30, 2003. As a condition for pursuing their road map to peace, the quartet (U.S., European Union, Russia, and UN) had insisted on the appointment of a prime minister with wide powers in a move to circumvent Palestinian Pres. Yasir Arafat, who both Israel and the U.S. claimed was promoting terror and blocking peace negotiations.

      Abbas immediately called for an end to the violent uprising against Israel but refused to disarm Islamist militants; he argued that any attempt to do so would lead to civil war. A cease-fire he negotiated with the militants in June broke down after Israel carried out a string of targeted assassinations. Undermined by Arafat and derided on the Palestinian street, Abbas's position became untenable. Blaming Israel, the U.S., and Arafat, he resigned on September 6, after slightly more than 100 days in office.

      Abbas was born in 1935 in the Arab-Jewish town of Safed (now in northern Israel). During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, his father, a prominent cheese merchant, fled with the family to Syria. Despite the family's refugee status, Abbas went on to earn a law degree at the University of Damascus.

      In the late 1950s he worked in Qatar as a personnel director in the civil service before making a fortune in private business. In 1959 he was one of the founders of the al-Fatah movement, which spearheaded the Palestinian armed struggle and dominated the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). In the late 1970s Abbas was instrumental in forging contacts with Israeli peace groups, a policy he fostered as head of the PLO's international department.

      Abbas completed a doctorate at the Institute of Asian and African Studies of the M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University in 1982 with a thesis titled “The Connection Between Nazism and Zionism 1933–1945.” Responding in the late 1990s to accusations of Holocaust denial, he observed that “at the time we were at war with Israel.…Today I would not have made such remarks.”

      At the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference and in the Oslo peace process that followed, Abbas shaped Palestinian negotiating strategy. He gave his account of the 1993 Oslo breakthrough in Through Secret Channels: The Road to Oslo.

      A senior member of the Palestinian delegation to the Camp David peace talks in July 2000, Abbas adamantly rejected Israel's peace offer but opposed the violent intifadah that erupted in its wake. In a speech in Gaza in November 2002, he had criticized the “militarization” of the intifadah, arguing that the violence had led to the “complete destruction of everything we built.” In his inaugural address as prime minister, Abbas renounced terrorism and resolved to create a single Palestinian armed force. His failure to establish a firm hold on power, followed by his resignation, undermined the fragile peace process.

Leslie D. Susser

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▪ Palestinian leader
also known as  Abu Mazen 
born 1935, Zefat, Palestine [now in Israel]
 
 Palestinian politician, who served briefly as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority in 2003 and was elected its president in 2005 following the death of Yāsir ʿArafāt (Arafāt, Yāsirʿ).

      Abbas, born in the Arab-Jewish town of Zefat (Ẕefat), fled with his family to Syria during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war (Arab-Israeli wars). Despite the family's refugee status, Abbas earned a law degree from the University of Damascus. In the late 1950s Abbas was one of the founders of Fatah, which spearheaded the Palestinian armed struggle and came to dominate the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). As head of the PLO's international department in the late 1970s, Abbas was instrumental in forging contacts with Israeli peace groups. In 1982 Abbas was awarded a doctorate in history from Moscow State University; his dissertation, which examined Nazism and Zionism, later was decried by Jewish groups as a work of Holocaust denial, and in the 1990s he distanced himself from some of its more controversial elements.

      In the early 1990s Abbas shaped Palestinian negotiating strategy at both the peace conference in Madrid (1991) and in secret meetings with the Israelis in Norway. Through the resulting Oslo Accords (1993), Israel and the Palestinians extended mutual recognition to each other, and Israel ceded some governing functions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to a Palestinian Authority. Abbas was a senior member of the Palestinian delegation to the Camp David peace talks in July 2000; he adamantly rejected Israel's peace offer but opposed the violent Palestinian uprising called the intifāḍah (Arabic: “shaking off”) that followed. In 2003, after intense international pressure, Abbas was installed as Palestinian prime minister as an effort to circumvent ʿArafāt (Arafāt, Yāsirʿ), who was considered an impediment to peace by Israel and the United States. Abbas quickly renounced terrorism, called for an end to the intifāḍah against Israel, and resolved to create a single Palestinian armed force, but he soon resigned from office, claiming he had been undermined by Israel, the United States, and ʿArafāt.

      Following ʿArafāt's death in November 2004, Abbas was named head of the PLO. In January 2005 he easily won the election to succeed ʿArafāt as president of the Palestinian Authority, garnering more than 60 percent of the vote.

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Universalium. 2010.

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