Mahmoud Abbas (محمود عباس) (born March 26, 1935), also known by the kunya 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. Abbas is frequently portrayed by Israel and the West as the face of Palestinian moderation.
"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."
Additionally, he claimed that the much smaller number of Jews which he admitted that the Nazis did massacre were actually the victims of a Zionist-Nazi plot:
"The Zionist movement led a broad campaign of incitement against the Jews living under Nazi rule to arouse the government's hatred of them, to fuel vengeance against them and to expand the mass extermination."
The California-based Simon Wiesenthal Center publicly called for Abbas to clarify his position on the Holocaust, but no clear statement was forthcoming. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv in the mid 90's Abbas tried to frame the issue in terms of realpolitik. "When I wrote The Other Side...we were at war with Israel," Abbas said. "Today I would not have made such remarks...Today there is peace and what I write from now on must help advance the peace process.
As Abbas was appointed prime minister, the Israeli Army discreetly deleted quotes from their website, providing excerpts from the their new partner’s book, questioning the use of gas chambers and talking of less than one million victims, along with statements supporting terrorism. The English translation of the book was also withdrawn by the Simon Wiesenthal Center prior to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, after a request from the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department, according to Member of Knesset, Aryeh Eldad.
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.
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 travelled 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. Abbas began to argue for the recognition of Israel at the times when such position was unpopular in the PLO; Dennis Ross recounts Abbas' words that he was "swimming against the stream" in the 70s trying to move the Fatah towards recognizing Israel. 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 travelled 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) .
Abu Daoud, one of those believed to have planned or executed the Munich attack, alleged that although he did not know what the money would be spent for, Mahmoud Abbas was responsible for securing the funding for the operation in his autobiography, Memoirs of a Palestinian Terrorist (ISBN 978-1-55970-429-8). 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.
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 favor 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.
In addition, Abbas came into conflict with Palestinian militant groups, notably Islamic Jihad and Hamas; his pragmatic policies were opposed to their hard-line approach. However, he made it perfectly clear that he was forced to abandon, for the moment, the use of arms against Israeli civilians inside the green line due to its ineffectiveness; the Abbas doctrine allowed for selective terrorism. 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 honor a unilateral Palestinian cease-fire. However, continuing violence and Israeli "target 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 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.
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 other candidates, 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.
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 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 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 May 25, Abbas gave Hamas a 10 day deadline to accept the 1967 cease-fire lines.
On June 2, Abbas again announced that if Hamas did 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 spokesmen stated that a change in their stance would 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 would call new legislative elections if it does 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.
On March 17, 2007 a Palestinian 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 June 14, 2007 Abbas dissolved the Hamas-led unity government of prime minister Ismail 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 that were in control of US and Israeli-armed and supported Fatah militias. The appointment of Fayyad to replace Haniyeh has been challenged as illegal, because under the Palestinian Basic Law, the President of the Palestinian Authority 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 Palestinian Legislative Council.. For this reason, Ismail Haniyeh the Hamas prime minister has continued to operate in Gaza, and be recognized as by a large number of Palestinians as the legitimate caretaker prime minister. Anis al-Qasem, the Palestinian constitutional lawyer who drafted the Basic Law, is among those who publicly declared Abbas' appointment of Fayyad to be illegal..
On June 18, the EU promised to resume direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, Abbas dissolved the National Security Council, a sticking point in the defunct unity government with Hamas. That same day, the United States decided to end its 15-month embargo on the Palestinian Authority and resume aid, attempting to strengthen Abbas's West Bank government. One day later, the Fatah Central Committee cut off all ties and dialogue with Hamas, pending the return of Gaza.
Abbas told March 2 2008 he was suspending peace talks with Israel, while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed to press on with the deadly military operations against militants who have been launching increasingly powerful rockets into southern Israel.
On May 20, 2008, Abbas stated he would resign from his office if the current round of peace talks had not yielded an agreement in principal "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."