Mideastweb: Middle East

Biography - Mahmoud Abbas

Middle East news peacewatch top stories books documents culture dialog history Maps donations

Biography of Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, was born in Safad, in the Galilee (Palestine) in 1935. His family fled Safed in 1948 and settled in Syria, where he  worked as an elementary school teacher. He received a BA in law from Damascus University and a Ph.D. from the Oriental College in Moscow in history. He moved to Qatar where he  worked as director of personnel in the civil service and began to manage and organize Palestinian groups. He was a founding member of Fatah (often said to be co-founder with Yasser Arafat), and has been a member of the Palestine National Council since 1968. Abbas has headed the PLO Department for National and International Relations since 1980 and was elected by the PLO Executive Committee to replace Abu Jihad, who was assassinated, as chairman of the portfolio on the Occupied Territories in May 1988. Abbas served as Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority. On January 9, 2005, Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the Palestine National Authority.

Abbas has long been considered an exponent of a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He advocated negotiations with Israelis and initiated a dialogue with Jewish and pacifist movements in the 1970s. His negotiations with Matiyahu Peled resulted in the announcement of "principles of peace" based on a two-state-solution in January 1977. However, Abbas has also made numerous extremist statements. For example, he claimed that the Nazis killed "only a few hundred thousand Jews," rather than  six million.  His doctorate in history researched supposed connections between the Zionist movement and Nazism. He is said to have been responsible for financing the 1972 attack on Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympics.

Abbas has been a moving force in the Oslo peace process, and in trying to revive the process after the outbreak of violence in September, 2000.  He coordinated the negotiation process during the Madrid conference. He headed the Palestinian negotiating team to the secret Oslo talks.  Abbas signed the 1993 The Oslo Declaration of Principles with Israel on September 13, 1993, on behalf of PLO. Abbas has been the head of the PLO Negotiating Affairs Department since 1994 and signed the Interim Agreement in September 1995 for the PLO.

Abbas came to live in Gaza and Ramallah in September 1995 after the signing of the Oslo accords.  He published an account of the Oslo negotiations, "Through Secret Channels: The Road to Oslo . With Yossi Beilin, Abbas drafted a controversial “Framework for the Conclusion of a Final Status Agreement Between Israel and the PLO” (better known as Abu-Mazen-Beilin Plan) in October 1995. Abbas headed the Central Election Commission for the Palestine Legislative Council elections in Jan.1996 and  was elected as a representative for Qalqilya. He was the Palestinian chair of the Israeli-PA final status talks in May 1996. He was also elected the Secretary General of the PLO Executive Committee  in 1996, making him the second in command after Yasser Arafat

In March 2003, Abbas  was appointed the first Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, under pressure from the US and Europe to institute reforms, control terrorist groups and revive the peace process. Some progress was made in controlling internal corruption and in financial transparency. However, most reform moves initiated by Abbas were frustrated by Yasser Arafat, who refused to surrender authority over security services, and by lack of support from Fatah rank and file, as well as lack of support from Israel. After Abbas made it clear that he would seek a Hudna (truce) with terrorist factions rather than try to suppress them, Israeli support became lukewarm. Though Israel withdrew troops from some areas of the West Bank that had been occupied since Operation Defensive Wall, and eased some security restrictions, the Israeli government refused to release Palestinian prisoners in any numbers. Terror attacks declined very briefly in July of 2003, but examination of the statistics shows that this decline was due to Israeli efficiency in foiling attacks. The quiet was finally broken by several severe attacks in August, showing that Abu Mazen was not in control of the security situation. Though Abbas visited the White House, he came away from the meeting empty handed.  Abbas resigned as Prime Minister on September 6, 2003. He was replaced by Ahmed Qurei. After his resignation, Abbas remained Secretary General of the PLO Executive, and quietly went about the business of political rehabilitation. When Yasser Arafat became ill in October 2004, Abbas, along with Ahmed Qurei, took control of the Palestinian Authority and PLO.

Ami Isseroff


See also:

Biography - Ariel Sharon
Biography - Yasser Arafat
Biography - Shimon Peres
Biography - Ahmed Qurei (Abu-Ala)

Notice - Copyright

This biography is copyright 2004 by MidEastWeb http://www.mideastweb.org and the author. Please tell your friends about MidEastWeb and link to this page. Please do not copy this page to your Web site. You may print this page out for classroom use provided that this notice is appended, and you may cite this material in the usual way. Other uses by permission only. 


MidEastWeb is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting peace and coexistence in the Middle East. We provide balanced and complete information, news and views to promote understanding and dialog. We cannot continue without your help! If peace in the Middle East is important to you, please help us by making a tax-deductible donation. If you don't help us, who will? Thank you!


Current Commentary


History Sources Page    Brief History

Middle East Gateway