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last updated Jan. 5, 2010 10:48 AM (EST+7)
Mahmoud Abbas
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Palestinian politics Fateh PLO Yasser Arafat PA Palestinian Authority
Mahmoud Abbas is president of the Palestinian Authority, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and head of Fateh.

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Abbas was born in Safad in 1935. He and his family were made refugees during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and left for Syria. He started his career working as an elementary school teacher and later obtains a BA in law from Damascus University in 1958. He earned a PhD in history from the Oriental College in Moscow in 1982 and has authored several books.

The book which resulted from his PhD, The Other Side: the Secret Relationship between Nazism and Zionism has been criticized by some Jewish groups as a work of Holocaust denial. He denied that charge in an interview with Haaretz newspaper in May 2003.

In 1957, he worked as director of personnel in Qatar’s civil service. At the same time, he began to manage and organize Palestinian groups. He was a founding member of Fateh and has been a member of the Fateh Central Committee since 1964. He accompanied Yasser Arafat and other Fateh members during the exile period in Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia. He has been a member of the Palestinian National Council since 1968, and a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee since 1980.

Abbas is a leading Palestinian figure said to be devoted to the search for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He has advocated negotiations with Israelis since the early 1970s and initiated dialogue with Jewish and pacifist movements before negotiations officially started between Israel and the Palestinians. He led negotiations with Matityahu Peled that resulted in the January 1977 announcement of the “principles of peace” which was based on a two-state solution.

Having built a network of powerful Arab contacts, Abbas became a successful fundraiser for the PLO. As a result he was appointed head of the PLO Department for Arab and International Relations from 1984 until 2000, and in May 1988 he was elected by the PLO executive committee to succeed Khalil al-Wazir (assassinated in April 1988) as chairman of the portfolio on the occupied territories. He coordinated the negotiation process during the 1991 Madrid conference.

After the Gulf War in January 1993, Abbas was the first PLO official to visit Saudi Arabia, and apologized to the Gulf countries for the PLO’s stand during the crisis.  He then headed the Palestinian negotiating team to the Oslo talks, and signed the Declaration of Principles (DOP) on September 13, 1993. From 1994 until his appointment as prime minister in 2003 he was head of the PLO Negotiating Affairs Department. In this capacity he signed the Interim Agreement (Oslo II) in September 1995.

After almost 48 years in exile, Abbas returned to the occupied territories in September 1995. He took up residence in Gaza and Ramallah. He authored an account on the Oslo negotiations titled Through Secret Channels: the Road to Oslo. He drafted the controversial “Framework for the conclusion of a final status agreement between Israel and the PLO” (known as the Abu Mazen-Beilin Plan) with his Israeli counterpart Yossi Beilin in October 1995. Its existence was denied for five years. It was finally published in September 2000.

In 1996 he became head of the Central Election Commission until 2002. In January 1996 he was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) as the representative to Qalqilya district. He served as head of the refugee department and in April 1996 he became secretary general of the PLO executive committee. In May 1996 he headed the first session of the Israeli-Palestinian Authority (PA) final status talks, together with Uri Savir.

In late 2002 Abbas criticized the direction that the al-Aqsa Intifada was taking and called for an end to armed attacks on Israeli targets. In March 2003 President Yasser Arafat nominated Abbas as prime minister, and on April 30, 2003 he was sworn in to Palestinian Authority cabinet as prime minister and interior minister. He resigned from the Fateh Central Committee in July 2003 and submitted his resignation as prime minister on September 6, 2003.

His leadership was supposed to change Israeli-Palestinian relations through the implementation of the roadmap peace plan, leading both sides towards resolution. He cited Israel’s unwillingness to implement its roadmap commitments and undertake constructive measures as the main reason for his resignation, but also blamed the international community and the Palestinian side for its lack of support, incitement and accusations. Additionally, Arafat had refused to hand over some crucial powers to Abbas, limiting his ability to act.

Following the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, Abbas was elected the new head of the PLO and was endorsed by the Fateh Revolutionary Council as its preferred candidate for the presidential elections on November 25, 2004. He was also favored by the international community and Israel as the successor to Arafat. In the January 9, 2005 presidential elections Abbas was elected president of the PA, gaining 62.52% of the vote. He was sworn in on January 15, 2005 and began to reform the government and security services. He forced some top security leaders into retirement.
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