Mahmoud Abbas

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Mahmoud Abbas

President of the Palestinian Authority

Image: abbas.jpg


"The only way is the choice of peace. It is impossible to liberate Palestine with the use of weapons because the balance of power is not with us."

"We will put the road map on the table and say that we are ready to implement it completely."

You were born in 1935 in the town of Safad, which became part of Israel in 1948. Your family fled to Syria, where you graduated from Damascus University with a law degree. You then went to the Oriental College in Moscow and received a Ph.D. in History. You are one of the few Palestinian leaders to study Israeli history and politics, though this did get you in some trouble following the publication of your 1982 thesis: you claimed that the numbers of Jews killed during the Holocaust were dramatically exaggerated afterwards to create sympathy for the Israeli cause amongst the international community. Since then you have publicly explained that your statement was misinterpreted, but in any case it has tarnished your academic achievements in the eyes of some of your detractors. After school you went into politics. In the 1950’s you became very involved in underground Palestinian politics, joining a number of exiled Palestinians in Qatar, where you were Director of Personnel in the emirate’s Civil Service. While there, you recruited a number of people who would eventually become key figures in the Palestine Liberation Organization. In 1957, you became one of the founding members of Fatah, along with Yasser Arafat.

Throughout the Palestinian exile, which lasted until 1993 or later for some operatives, you served as a behind-the-scenes counterpart to Arafat’s public revolutionary. You were especially skilled at meticulous matters, like the nitty-gritty of negotiations and logistics, making you a bureaucratic powerhouse within the Palestinian establishment, but also making you something of a pragmatist: you never fell in love with the limelight, and therefore you had the clarity of mind to keep your goals reasonable: the establishment of a Palestinian state through alliances and outside support, not through romantic revolutionaries.
In the 1960’s you led the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Negotiations Affairs Department. One of your most important missions came in 1993, when you visited Saudi Arabia, as the first PLO official to ever visit Saudi Arabia. You went there after the Gulf War and apologized to the Gulf countries for the PLO’s stand during the crisis. This was especially important because the PLO had actually supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, particularly after he began firing rockets at Israel, and as a result of this stance the Palestinians subsequently lost all funding from their Gulf supporters, who allied with the west against Hussein and Iraq.
As one of the PLO’s top diplomats, you were credited with initiating secretive contacts with left wing and pacifist Jewish groups during the 1970s and 1980s. Later, when Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to the Oslo peace accords in 1993, you were one of the major players behind the scenes who made it happen, having secretly negotiated with Israeli diplomat Yossi Beilin to establish the preliminary framework for what later become the Oslo accords, known as the “Abu Mazen-Beilin Agreement.” Abu Mazen is your honorific title amongst Palestinians, and as a result of this accord you can truly be said to have taken one of the most important Palestinian steps towards peace with Israel. In recognition of you efforts, you accompanied Mr. Arafat to the White House in 1993 to sign the Accords; sometime after this signing, you were finally allowed to return to your long lost homeland.

The Palestinian Authority
After returning to Palestine in 1993, and for your diplomatic breakthroughs in the Oslo Process, you were awarded with a number of important, if low-key, positions inside of Arafat’s new “Palestinian Authority,” which he headed as Palestine’s first elected leader. In January 1996, you served as the head of the Central Election Commission for the Palestine Legislative Council elections, helping to create the political framework for representative politics in the PA. In early 2003, the US and Israel refused to negotiate with Arafat because of rampant corruption within the PA and his indifference toward or inability to control violence from fringe groups like Hamas. On March 19, 2003 Arafat appointed you Palestine’s first Prime Minister and you then signed the US Roadmap For Peace. Your term as PM was frought with disputes with Arafat and conflict with Palestinian militant groups. A moderate, you pledged not to use force against the militants in the interest of avoiding a civil war, and instead you attempted negotiation. This was partially successful, resulting in a pledge from the two groups to honor a unilateral cease-fire. However to uphold your end of the Roadmap, you pledged to crack down on the continuing violence. Arafat refused to release control of the PA’s security forces so you could carry out your pledge, so in October 2003 your resigned as PM. Arafat fell ill and died, but meanwhile you helped to avoid a power vacuum by creating a succession system for Fatah and the PA, by which you were elected to replace Arafat as PLO chairman in 2004 and endorsed for presidential candidacy by the Fatah Revolutionary Council. On December 14, 2004, you called for an end to violence in the Al-Aqsa Intifada and a return to peaceful resistance, however you refused to disarm Palestinian militants or use force to act against groups that Israel, the U.S., and the European Union designated as ‘terrorist organizations’.

You were elected president of the PA in January 2005 by a wide margin, supported by the West in hopes that your pragmatism would empower secularism and hinder Islamists like Hamas. But upon assuming the presidency you declared that you would not take steps to forcibly disarm any Palestinian militia: while you publicly called for fighters to stop the violence and come back to the bargaining table, you were not prepared to take steps that would lead to a civil war. While Western and Israeli interlocutors gradually lost confidence in your ability to rein in violent groups, they conceded that your moderate and retiring style was probably preferable to having a firebrand in your place. The Palestinians, however, were not content with aimless moderation.

In early 2006, following Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in the summer of 2005, Hamas won a landslide victory in PA elections. While this result was perhaps surprising to all parties involved, including Hamas, the Islamist group quickly formed a government under Ismail Haniyeh, who refused to acknowledge the Oslo Process, but at least tacitly endorsed a cease-fire with Israel. Despite this slight pragmatic tilt in Hamas policy, the wider world was appalled by this election: Western aid to the territories dried up and Israel shut its doors to Palestinian entreaties, creating a state of privation in Palestine that fed tensions and street violence between competing groups. As the president you were in the unenviable position of trying to reopen Western aid by talking tough towards your Hamas opponents, while also acknowledging that Hamas represented the aspirations of a large chunk of the Palestinian people. You were largely unsuccessful at this, however: even as president, your ability to enforce cease-fires and bring people back to the bargaining table is severely limited by the sheer number of militias that have arisen since the start of the Intifada. After Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, killing all hope for a unity government, you replaced PM Haniya with Salam Fayyad.. Recognizing your separateness from Hamas, you receive tax money from Israel and aid from the West while Hamas suffers from a brutal economic blockade.

Following Israel’s 2008-09 Gaza War against Hamas, in which the territory’s infrastructure and homes were destroyed and 1,300 Gazans died—along with Israeli-Palestinian peace talks—you came under fire for voting to delay UN action on the Goldstone Report. The report alleged that Israel (and to a lesser extent, Hamas) committed war crimes during the war, and Palestinians felt that you caved to pressure from the US and Israel, who opposed the report’s findings. Your constituents (especially Hamas supporters) began to call for your resignation and in November 2009, and you announced that you would not seek re-election after failure to extract a West Bank settlement freeze ended proximity talks between the PA and Israel. However, you have extended your current term in office until new presidential and parliamentary elections (which the PA keeps postponing) can be held.

Since 2007, finding national reconciliation has been one of your biggest concerns. In order to maintain control over the West Bank, the PA cracked down on its opposition, arresting Hamas leaders and supporters. Negotiations between Fatah and Hamas on an Egypt-brokered peace unity plan have floundered due to disagreements on power sharing. After the May 2010 Gaza Flotilla incident, in which nine pro-Palestinian peace activists on board ships carrying civilian aid to Gaza were killed by IDF commandos, you (along with the EU, UN, President Obama, etc.) called for an end to Israel’s blockade, and also expressed interest in reviving reconciliation talks with Hamas. Your critics say that renewing reconciliation efforts would relieve pressure on Israel to lift the blockade and reassert PA control over Gaza. As it is, reconciliation talks are at a standstill, and without a united Palestinian front, dreams of statehood remain out of reach.

Roleplaying Notes
As a moderate (a difficult position in the Middle East) and a shrewd politician, you know that you cannot stop the Intifada by force. Fatah internally is in disarray and many feel that its party leadership is out of touch. Judging by election results, Palestinians clearly favor Hamas. All the same, as an elder statesman you recognize that Hamas does not, in its present incarnation, have much hope of really settling the conflict, as its militancy only strengthens the right wing in Israel, who have decided that perhaps the Palestinians are best ignored completely, if not outright dominated. As such you are stuck in the middle, arguing on the one hand for the legitimate rights of Palestinians to elect their own government, and on the other hand trying to act as the public face of a constructive national government, bent on honoring your commitments to the peace process and ensuring the peaceful creation of a Palestinian state. Your task is to ensure the creation of a united Palestinian state, without relinquishing control to Hamas (terminating international support for Palestinian statehood) or making concessions to Israel (spelling your political demise). You must convince Palestinians—and the world—that you (Fatah) are the legitimate and best leader for the Palestinians, capable of winning independence.


Mahmoud Abbas, (Abu Mazen). Jewish Virtual Library: A Division of The American-Israel Cooperative Enterprise.

Mahmoud Abbas. Wikipedia Encyclopedia.

Mahmoud Abbas. BBC News World Edition. Middle East/ Profile. January 16, 2005.

Mahmoud Abbas. CNN News. Who is Mahmoud Abbas? January 10, 2005.

Mahmoud Abbas. CBC News In-depth.

Mahmoud Abbas. Palestine Facts: Current Events: Mahmoud Abbas.

Mahmoud Abbas – The New York Times:

Al Fatah - The New York Times:

Abbas Aide: Deferring Action on Goldstone Report Was a Mistake – Haaretz Daily Newspaper. November 07, 2009.

Hamas: Abbas Needs Our Okay to Visit Gaza – The Jerusalem Post. June 22, 2010.

Obama Offers Abbas 400 Million in Extra Aid For Gaza in Flotilla Aftermath - Haaretz Daily Newspaper. June 06, 2010.

Reconciliation Rollercoaster – Al Jazeera English. June 16, 2010.

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