Childhood & Early Life
Mahmoud Abbas was born on March 26, 1935 in Safed, also known as Zefad. The town is located in the Galilee region of Northern Israel, but earlier fell under the Mandatory Palestine.
When the Palestine War broke out in 1948, he, along with his family, fled to Syria. Mahmoud did his schooling there. Later he studied law at University of Damascus and after graduation, moved to Egypt. For some time, he worked as an elementary teacher.
Later in late 50s, he went to Qatar and took up services under the Emirate’s civil service as Director of Personnel. Here he came in contact with exiled Palestinian leaders and was initiated into politics.
Much later, he went to Moscow and enrolled at Patrice Lumumba University to do his doctorate. The theme was ‘The Connection between the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement’. He received his Candidate of Science Degree (Russian equivalent to PHD) in 1982.
Later in 1984, he published this work as a book titled ‘The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism’. It was written in Arabic. In it he tried to establish that the number of deaths in the Holocaust was actually a lie and the Jews, who died at the concentration camp was in reality victims of Nazi-Zionist conspiracy.
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Early Political Career
Mahmoud Abbas was initiated into politics while living in Qatar sometime in late 50s. In 1961, he was recruited by Yasser Arafat and absorbed in Ḥarakat al-Taḥrīr al-Waṭanī al-Filasṭīnī (Palestine National Liberation Movement), popularly known as Fatah or Fath.
It was an underground political organization, co-founded by Yasser Arafat, with the aim of wrestling Palestine from Israeli control by armed struggle. Fatah later came to dominate Palestine Liberation Organization. In 1968, Abbas joined the Palestine National Council and also became a member of the Executive Committee of Palestine Liberation Organization.
Abbas also donated considerably towards the cause of the organization. According to Abu Daoud, who masterminded 1972 Munich Massacre, Abbas provided the fund; albeit without knowing how the money was going to be used.
In late 1970s Abbas began to head the International Department of PLO. In this capacity, he was entrusted with the task of presenting PLO policies in a more moderate light. Very soon, he started advocating talks with Israel. In 1977, he made the first contract with peace groups in Israel.
In 1990s, Abbas was entrusted with the task of shaping Palestinian negotiating strategy for the peace conference to be held in 1991 in Madrid. Later he also prepared the peace strategy for the secret meetings to be held with the Israelis in Oslo.
However, in 1990-91, PLO developed a strained relationship with Saudi Arabia over its support for the Iraqis in the Persian Gulf War. In January, 1993 Abbas visited Saudi Arabia and mended PLO’s relationship with that country.
His position in the PLO became even more defined at the time of signing ‘Oslo I Accord’ on September 13, 1993 in Washington DC. Abbas signed the document for PLO in the presence of the organization’s Chairman Yasser Arafat, American President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Next in 1995, Abbas represented PLO while signing a draft agreement named Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement. Unfortunately, it was later rejected by both sides.
By 2003, Abbas began to emerge as more visible face of Palestinian leadership. By then, both Unites States and Israel had refused to deal with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. Abbas, being one of earliest members of Fatah, was naturally chosen to replace him. Besides, he was equally acceptable to the West.
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On March 19, 2003 Abbas was appointed by Arafat as the Prime Minister of Palestinian National Authority. On coming to power he immediately renounced terrorism and promised to end uprising against Israel and create a single Palestinian armed force.
However, Arafat kept on interfering in every matter and the tussle of power between the two leaders continued. Finally, Abbas resigned from office on September 6, 2003. During this short stint he also had to deal with Palestinian militant groups that preferred a more hard-line approach.
Although he stepped down from the office, there was no challenge to his leadership. When Arafat died in November 2004, Abbas became the majority choice. He became the Chairman of PLO and also won the Presidential election, held in January 9, 2005, by garnering 60% of votes.
As President of Palestine National Authority, he gave a call for end of violence and prescribed peaceful resistance. However, he could not disarm the militant groups and in direct challenge to his authority they launched attacks on January 12 and 13 killing many Israeli.
As a result the Israeli authority cut off relationship with Abbas stating that he must now show his genuine desire for peace by controlling such elements. In spite of that Abbas was sworn in as the President of Palestine National Authority on January 15. The ceremony was held at Ramallah in West Bank.
He was confronted with greater problems after the legislative election, held on January 25, 2006. In it, candidates backed by militant group Hamas won the majority seats. A short-lived Fatah-Hamas coalition government was formed. But violence continued to spread.
Abbas’ term as President ended on January 9, 2009. However, he extended the term for one year and continued to do so stating Basic Law gave him the right. Although Hamas disputed such claims in the beginning, in May 2011, he was accepted as the leader of the interim government.
In 2010, he participated in another round of peace talk with Israel, but it failed. He next concentrated on gaining international recognition for Palestine. In September 2011, he submitted a request for Palestine’s admission in the United Nation as an independent state; a move that was opposed by the US and Israel.
When nothing came out of such request, Abbas next submitted a draft resolution to the general assembly, which asked for elevation of the status of Palestine Mission within UN from Permanent Observer to Nonmember Observer State.
The resolution granting such request was passed on November 29, 2012 by 138 to 9 votes. 41 countries abstained from voting. As a result, Palestine got an implicit recognition as an independent state and could now become member of different international bodies.
Mahmoud Abbas is married to Amina Abbas; the couple has three children named Mazen Abbas, Yasser Abbas and Tareq. Among them Mazen Abbas has passed away at the age of 42 while Yasser Abbas is a Canadian businessman and Tareq works as a business executive,
Abbas has so far penned down two books. His first book, ‘The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism’, written in Arabic, is based on his doctoral thesis ‘The Connection between the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement’. His second book, ‘Through Secret Channels: The Road to Oslo’, is a memoirs of the Oslo agreement.