Born in March 1935, Mahmoud Abbas, commonly known as Abu Mazen, is a leading politician in Fatah. He served as Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA) from March to October 2003. In January 2005 he was elected President of the PA.
Abbas was born in Safed, in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine. After the founding of Israel and the subsequent occupation of the rest of the former Mandate by Jordan and Egypt, he left for Egypt to study law. Abbas subsequently pursued graduate studies at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, where he earned a doctorate. His doctoral thesis later became a book (titled The Other Side: The Secret Relations between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement) which denied both the scope and gravity of the Nazi Holocaust. According to Abbas, "only a few hundred thousand Jews" were killed in the Holocaust and those mostly through collusion between the Nazis and the Zionists.
In the mid-1950s Abbas became involved in underground Palestinian politics, and joined a number of exiled Palestinians in Qatar. While there, he recruited numerous people who would become key figures in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and was one of the founding members of Fatah in 1957. During the late 1950s, Abbas and Yasser Arafat carried out a host of subversive and terrorist activities as Muslim Brotherhood operatives. As a result, they were forced to flee Egypt.
Through the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, Abbas travelled with Yasser Arafat and the rest of the PA leadership-in-exile to Jordan, Lebanon, and Tunisia. In 1966, after the pair had murdered a number of intelligence officers in Syria, they fled to Jordan. Four years later, after their effort to topple Jordan's Hashemite regime sparked a brutal civil war, they were expelled to Lebanon. "By 1975," writes Yoram Ettinger, former Minister for Congressional Affairs at Israel's Embassy in Washington DC, "they had plundered large parts of southern Lebanon, attempting to overthrow the central regime in Beirut, which triggered the Syrian invasion of Lebanon, a series of civil wars and the destruction of Lebanon."
Widely regarded as a pragmatist, Abbas is credited with initiating secretive contacts with leftist and pacifist Jewish organizations during the 1970s and 80s, and is considered by many to have been 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).
Mohammed Daoud Oudeh, mastermind of the Munich Massacre of eleven Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972, alleges that his deadly operation (spearheaded by Abu Nidal and carried out under the name "Black September") was funded by Abbas.
Nonetheless, Abbas has cultivated a public reputation as a political moderate. The main piece of evidence for his putative temperance—his supposed opposition to the Palestinian Intifada—is belied by many of his public statements. In March 2003, for example, Abbas told the London-based Arabic paper A-Sharq al-Aussat, "The Intifada must continue, and it is the right of the Palestinian people to resist and use all possible means in order to defend its presence and existence ..."
Morton Klein, National President of the Zionist Organization of America, makes the following observations about Abbas:
"One of the extraordinary blind spots of contemporary Middle East history is the obsession of calling Mahmoud Abbas, whose nom de guerre or war name is Abu Mazen, a peace-loving moderate. ... Abbas was not only Yasser Arafat's deputy for 40 years, he also co-founded with him the terrorist group Fatah, masterminded the Munich massacre and wrote a PhD thesis and book denying the Holocaust. He has completely failed as PA president to honor the Oslo Accords and other signed agreements, including the 2003 Roadmap peace plan by ... extraditing and jailing terrorists and confiscating their weaponry, and ending the incitement to hatred and murder in the PA-controlled media, mosques, schools and youth camps ... When the PA opened its own Rafah border crossing in Gaza [in 2005], he named it after the terrorist killer Al-Moayed Bihokmillah Al-Aqha, who was killed in December 2004 carrying out a terrorist attack that killed five Israelis.
"Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly spoken of the importance of 'implementing the principles of Yasser Arafat' ... He has praised the Lebanese Islamist terrorist group, Hizballah, ... saying that it is a source of pride and sets an example for what he termed the 'Arab resistance' ... He condemned Israel's killing of four Palestinian terrorists in a military operation as a 'barbarous slaughter' ... He sometimes criticizes Palestinian terrorism only on tactical grounds, because 'it harms the Palestinian interests.'
"Although it is an explicit Palestinian commitment under the Oslo agreements and the Roadmap peace plan, he calls dismantling terrorist groups a 'red line' that must not be crossed. ... [He] has said of Palestinian terrorists that 'Israel calls them terrorists, we call them strugglers'; ... that 'Allah loves the martyr'; ... and that wanted Palestinian terrorists are 'heroes fighting for freedom' ... When President Bush asked Abbas to announce that he supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, he refused. Lastly, it should also not be forgotten that Mahmoud Abbas heads the Fatah Party, a movement whose Charter to this day calls for terrorism against Israel and its destruction."
By early 2003, as both Israel and the United States had indicated their refusal to negotiate any further with Arafat, Abbas began to emerge as a candidate for a more visible leadership role. As a founding member of Fatah, he enjoyed a measure of credibility within the Palestinian cause. And his reputation as a pragmatist garnered him favor with the international community and with certain elements of the Palestinian legislature. Thus pressure was soon brought on Arafat to appoint Abbas to the post of Prime Minister. Arafat did so, with some reluctance, on March 19, 2003.
Abbas's tenure as Prime Minister was characterized by numerous power struggles between him and Arafat. Abbas also came into conflict with Palestinian terrorist groups, notably Islamic Jihad and Hamas; his pragmatic policies were diametrically opposed to the hard-line approach of those organizations. Initially Abbas pledged, in the interest of avoiding a civil war, to use negotiation rather than force in dealing with the militants. This approach was partially successful, resulting in a pledge from the two groups to honor a unilateral Palestinian cease-fire. However, subsequent eruptions of violence forced Abbas to order a police-enforced crackdown. This led to further struggle with Arafat over control of the Palestinian security services.
The feud came to a head on September 6, 2003: Abbas submitted to Arafat 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. He presided over a "caretaker" government until his successor Ahmed Qurei was sworn in on October 7, 2003.
Abbas resurfaced on the Palestinian political scene following Arafat's death in November 2004, succeeding Arafat as PLO Chairman. Later that month, Abbas won the endorsement of Fatah to stand as its candidate in the January 2005 presidential election, for which he campaigned on a virulently anti-Israel platform. At a January 4 campaign stop, for instance, he denounced Israel as the "Zionist enemy," and offered a prayer to "the souls of the martyrs," a reference to seven Palestinian terrorists killed by the Israeli army earlier in the week.
In the election, Abbas became President of the PA by winning 62 percent of the vote. Immediately following his victory, he proclaimed that "the little jihad had ended, and the big jihad is now beginning." Abbas also took the opportunity to dedicate his victory to "brother shahid [martyr] Yasir Arafat," and paid tribute to all Palestinian "shahids and prisoners."
In March 2005, Abbas issued an invitation to the Damascus-based leaders of several terrorist groups -- among them Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- to relocate headquarters from Damascus to Gaza, and to join the PLO in a governing coalition as soon as Israel had completed its planned disengagement from its Gaza settlements.
Immediately after Israel had withdrawn its military forces and civilian residents from Gaza in August 2005, Abbas said: "We must remember that our achievements are the result of the sacrifices of the martyrs. ... This step will be followed by further withdrawals from the West Bank and Jerusalem." "We will continue the quest," Abbas declared on August 30, "until not a single [Palestinian] prisoner is left in the Israeli jails."
On September 12, 2005, Abbas delivered his first official speech since the Israeli withdrawal, in the compass of which he claimed that the Gaza Strip was still occupied because Israel, on the pretext of well-justified security concerns, had refused to surrender its control of several access points into Gaza.
The Weekly Standard reports that in December 2005, Abbas approved a law authorizing lump-sum payments of $2,200 to the surviving family members of "shahids" (martyrs)--including suicide bombers.
In early 2007, Abbas stated, "We [Palestinians] should put our internal fighting aside and raise our rifles only against the Israeli occupation." Around the same time period, he said, "We must unite the Hamas and Fatah blood in the struggle against Israel as we did at the beginning of the Intifada."
In February 2007, Abbas signed an agreement officially making his Fatah movement a junior partner of Hamas. Explaining the move, Abbas said that "the only two options facing me were civil war or national unity, and I chose the second."
That same month, Abbas sent effusive greetings via telegram to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Iran's national holiday. According to the PA daily Al-Hayat Al Jadida, Abbas wrote: "I am happy to express to your excellency and, through you, to your honorable government and to your brother people, on behalf of the Palestinian people and their leadership and on my behalf personally, the warmest, most heartfelt wishes, in a prayer to Allah, that He shall bestow on you on this holiday further progress and prosperity."
When U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced, in November 2007, that peace eventually would come to the Middle East, Abbas refused to recognize Israel's right to exist.
In the wake of a March 2008 slaughter of eight young yeshiva students by an Arab terrorist in Jerusalem, Abbas spokesman Saeb Erekat assured journalists -- in English, for Western consumption -- that Abbas condemned not only these killings but all attacks on innocent civilians, be they Palestinians or Israelis. However, Boston Globe writer Jeff Jacoby points out: "[J]ust a few days before the yeshiva massacre, Abbas had told the Jordanian daily Al-Dustur -- in Arabic, for Arab consumption -- that he is against terrorist attacks only for tactical reasons 'at this time' and that 'in the future, things may change.' He boasted of his long involvement with PLO violence -- 'I had the honor of firing the first shot in 1965' ..."
In May 2008 a report by Palestinian Media Watch asserted that Abbas' PA government not only supported terror, but was increasingly allying itself with America's enemies such as Iran, Syria, North Korea and Venezuela.
On April 27, 2009, Abbas addressed the Palestinian Youth Parliament. In the course of his speech, he candidly rejected the legitimacy of Israel's identity as a Jewish state, drawing enthusiastic applause from his audience. He said:
"The 'Jewish state.' What is a 'Jewish state?' We call it, the 'State of Israel'. You can call yourselves whatever you want. You can call yourselves whatever you want. But I will not accept it. And I say this on a live broadcast. It's not my job to define it, to provide a definition for the state and what it contains. You can call yourselves the Zionist Republic, the Hebrew, the National, the Socialist [Republic] call it whatever you like. I don't care." (Click here to see a video of Abbas delivering this quote.)
On July 4, 2010, Abbas eulogized Abu Dauod, mastermind of the 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, who had died the previous day. Said Abbas: “He is missed. He was one of the leading figures of Fatah and spent his life in resistance and sincere work as well as physical sacrifice for his people's just causes.”
In December 2010, Abbas reiterated his longstanding position that if a Palestinian state were to be established, no Jews would be p[ermitted to enter it: “We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it … when a Palestinian state is established, it would have no Israeli presence in it.”
In a televised September 16, 2011 address to the Palestinian people, Abbas said that the following week, he would take the Palestinians’ request for full United Nations member state recognition to the U.N. Security Council on the basis of the 1967 territorial lines, even though he knew that the U.S. had vowed to veto such a resolution. Said Abbas:
“We are trying to get a full membership in the U.N., on the '67 borders, so we will be able, afterwards, to go back to negotiations…during which we will discuss final status issues, Jerusalem, refugees, borders, water, security, settlements and the issue of our prisoners, [who] by that stage will be prisoners of war, not terrorists or criminals. Even if this won’t be the case, they will be our top priority. The decision has been already taken and we aren’t intending to withdraw it. As soon as I give my speech at the UN General Assembly, I will hand the bid to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to pass it to the president of the Security Council.”
On November 28, 2012 -- the 65th anniversary of the vote to divide the former British mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab -- 138 member countries of the UN General Assembly voted in favor of upgrading Palestine to a nonmember observer state of the UN. Only 9 members opposed the measure, and 41 abstained. The new status was expected to give the Palestinians more leverage in challenging Israel in international legal forums for its settlement-building activities in the West Bank and its blockade of Gaza. Abbas hailed the outcome of the UN vote as a "historic achievement" and a "decisive turning point in our national struggle." "The message to us is very clear," he said. "We are not alone. History is with us. The future belongs to us and God is with us."
Depicting the Palestinians' "victory" in the UN as a gift to the "soul of the late leader Yasser Arafat" and a tribute to the "legendary sacrifices and steadfastness" of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, Abbas pledged that his people would continue their struggle against Israel until the Palestinian flag could be raised in Jerusalem, the "eternal capital of the State of Palestine." He exhorted his fellow Palestinians to "raise your heads high because you are Palestinians and you have proven that you are stronger than occupation and settlements." Looking forward, Abbas said he now planned to focus his efforts on "accelerating moves to achieve reconciliation [with Hamas]." Hamas responded to Abbas's call for unity by advocating "urgent meetings" by which the two sides could resolve their differences.
In December 2012, the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR) issued a report accusing Abbas's PA of inhumane practices and human rights violations against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank – including torture, detentions, interrogations, and terminating people's employment. According to the Jerusalem Post:
"From June 2007 until the end of 2011, PA security forces detained 13,271 Palestinian citizens and 96 percent were subjected to various methods of torture, the [AOHR] report said. This resulted in the death of six detainees and caused 'chronic illness' in others."
The report added: "AOHR places complete responsibility for these human rights violations on the Palestinian President Abbas."
On March 15, 2013, Abbas told Russia Today TV: "As far as I'm concerned there is no difference between the policies of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas."