Abbas, Mahmud Rida (Abu Mazin; 1935–)

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ABBAS, MAHMUD RIDA (Abu Mazin; 1935–)

Palestinian political figure. Mahmud Abbas was born in 1935 in Safad, Mandatory Palestine. During the first Arab-Israel War in 1948, he fled to Syria, then joined the Baʿath Party in 1954. Four years later Abbas moved to Qatar, where he worked for the ministry of education for ten years. After joining the Palestinian al-Fatah movement, he was sent to Jordan in 1961, in charge of information in the Palestinian community. After the Jordanian-Palestinian clashes of Black September 1970 he was expelled to Syria, where he joined a small Palestinian group, whose members included Issam Sartawi and Saʿid Hamami, who favored the establishment of a dialogue with the Israelis. In 1971 he was elected to the Central Committee of al-Fatah and, the following year, to the Central Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1977 he traveled to Prague, where he met, discreetly, with representatives of the Israel Communist Party. In July 1978 he led the first al-Fatah delegation to Moscow. While in Moscow he wrote a thesis on Zionism that earned him a doctorate in political science.

Three years later Abbas joined the political department of the PLO, under the leadership of Faruq Qaddumi. He was in Tunis, in January 1983, at a meeting between Yasir Arafat and three Israeli figures: Mattityahu Peled, Uri Avnery, and Yaacov Arnon. The following September, at a meeting of the PLO's executive committee, Abbas was reelected to the political department as director of domestic affairs. At the meeting, he proposed the idea of beginning a dialogue with Israel. In May 1988 he was named leader of the Palestinian delegation to the mixed Jordanian-Palestinian Committee for the Occupied Territories, replacing Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), assassinated the previous month by an Israeli commando. Six months later, on 16 November, after the announcement by the Palestine National Council (PNC) of the "creation of the Palestinian State," Abbas supported the project of reform of the Palestinian Charter to include an official recognition of the State of Israel. In November of the following year he was appointed by Yasir Arafat to lead the Palestinian committee in charge of supervising the Israeli-Arab peace negotiations. On 1 June 1992, while the leader of the PLO was hospitalized in Amman, he joined Faruq Qaddumi and Hani al-Hasan in the triumvirate appointed by Yasir Arafat to direct the PLO in the interim. In March 1993, Arafat placed Abbas in charge of the secret negotiations with Israel in Oslo, Norway, which resulted, the following 13 September, in the signature of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (DOP). In February 1994 he supported Faysal al-Husayni, who was advocating the creation of a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation. Then, in disagreement with Arafat on certain points of the Israeli-Palestinian Agreement, Abbas announced his retirement from political life.

In March 1995, having returned to the West Bank, Abbas was once more asked to lead the Palestinian committee in negotiations with Israel. On 22 May 1996, elected by the executive committee of the PLO to the post of secretary general, he became second in command after Arafat and as such his potential successor. Abbas presided over the Central Elections Committee during the campaign for the January 1996 elections. Between 1997 and 2000, he met often with Israeli, American, and Arab political figures, with whom he tried to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. In the middle of May 2001, in the context of the al-Aqsa Intifada, which had intensified in the Palestinian territories, he traveled to Washington to meet with U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell, with whom he discussed ways of implementing the cease-fire enjoined by the Mitchell Commission. Early in September 2001 he flew to Moscow, a few days after the visit of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.

In April 2003 Arafat appointed Abbas to the newly created post of prime minister. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority (PA) had agreed to this move only under great pressure from the Americans and the Israelis, who were refusing to deal with Arafat. Abbas's tenure was a constant power struggle with Arafat, chiefly over the many security services under Arafat's personal control, though Abbas was also interior minister. As prime minister, Abbas reappointed Saib Erekat as negotiation minister; urged Israel to act on its commitment to the Road Map plan for peace, including an end to the building of illegal settlements in the West Bank; and urged the Israelis and Americans to end their boycott of Arafat. Israel criticized Abbas for his reluctance to use force against militant groups, especially HAMAS, against which Israel was conducting a campaign of assassinations. Abbas was widely regarded among Palestinians as being excessively conciliatory. Facing a no-confidence vote in the Palestine Legislative Council, Abbas resigned from his cabinet posts on 5 September 2003. The next day Israel attempted to assassinate Ahmad Yasin, the nominal leader of HAMAS.

In October 2004, as Arafat's health declined, Abbas appeared to be in the best position to succeed Arafat. Returned to Arafat's favor, he is believed to have been a more honest, if not effective, PNA prime minister than Ahmad Qurai, and had wide, if not deep support at least among the older generation in the PLO. Abbas is known to favor bringing HAMAS and Islamic Jihad into the mainstream of Palestinian politics, something that may not be attractive to those organizations as long as the PLO continues to meet aggressive Israeli policy with attempts to compromise.


SEE ALSO Aqsa, Intifada, al-; Arafat, Yasir; Black September 1970; Erekat, Saib Muhammad; Fatah, al-; HAMAS; Husayni, Faysal al-; Palestine Liberation Organization; Palestinian Islamic Jihad; Qurai, Ahmad Sulayman; Road Map (2002).

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