Mahmoud Abbas (Arabic: مَحْمُود عَبَّاس, Maḥmūd ʿAbbās; born 15 November 1935), also known by the kunya Abu Mazen (Arabic: أَبُو مَازِن, 'Abū Māzin), is the President of the State of Palestine and Palestinian National Authority. He has been the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) since 11 November 2004, and Palestinian president since 15 January 2005 (Palestinian National Authority since 15 January 2005, and State of Palestine since 8 May 2005). Abbas is a member of the Fatah party.
Abbas was elected on 9 January 2005 to serve as President of the Palestinian National Authority until 15 January 2009, but extended his term until the next election in 2010, citing the PLO constitution, and on December 16, 2009 was voted into office indefinitely by the PLO Central Council. As a result, Fatah's main rival, Hamas, initially announced that it would not recognize the extension or view Abbas as the rightful president. Yet, Abbas is internationally recognized and Hamas and Fatah conducted numerous negotiations in the following years, leading to an agreement in April 2014 over a Unity Government, which lasted until October 2016, and therefore to the recognition of his office by Hamas. Abbas was also chosen as the President of the State of Palestine by the Palestine Liberation Organization's Central Council on 23 November 2008, a position he had held unofficially since 8 May 2005.
Abbas served as the first Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority from March to September 2003. Before being named prime minister, Abbas led the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department.
THE TRAGEDY OF MAHMOUD ABBAS
As he enters what may be his final years as the leader of Palestine, he appears poised to duplicate the mistakes of Arafat. The Atlantic, Grant Rumley, Jan 21, 2018
Picture a Palestinian leader in the twilight of his reign. Besieged on all sides and challenged by younger upstarts, he lashes out against Israel, his Arab brethren, and the United States. Other Palestinian officials jockey to replace him, convinced he’s past his prime. This is how it ended for Yasser Arafat, whose insistence on waging the second intifada left him isolated in the final years of his rule. It may well be how it ends for Mahmoud Abbas.
Last Sunday, the 82-year-old Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, gave a speech in front of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council. Over two rambling hours, he deployed anti-Semitic tropes, undercut the Jewish connection to Israel, and blamed everyone from Oliver Cromwell to Napoleon to Winston Churchill for Israel’s creation. He repeatedly cursed President Donald Trump (“may your house fall into ruin”); he has also said he will boycott Vice President Mike Pence’s upcoming visit. He issued indirect rebukes of Arab leaders (“no one has the right to interfere with our affairs”) after days of reportedly confrontational meetings with other Gulf officials (“if [they] really want to help the Palestinian people, support us, and give us a real hand. If not, you can all go to hell”).
It’s a dramatic turn for a once mild-mannered bureaucrat, who ascended to power in part because of his ability to ease tensions with Arab countries and pursue diplomatic backchannels. “I say to the Israeli leadership and to the Israeli people,” Abbas declared in his inaugural address 13 years ago this month, “we are two peoples destined to live side by side, and to share this land between us.” Since then, he’s lost a parliamentary election and governance of Gaza to Hamas, his Islamist rivals. Over a decade into his reign, most Palestinians no longer support him.
Frustration, it seems, has led Abbas to reveal his true colors. In recent years, he’s accused Israeli rabbis of supporting the poisoning of Palestinian water wells, claimed Jews had “fabricated” history, and insisted he would “never recognize the Jewishness of the state of Israel.” This dalliance with anti-Semitism brings to mind his controversial PhD thesis, which downplayed the number of victims of the Holocaust and suggested a link between Zionism and Nazism. Though he later backtracked on the claims in his thesis, his recent diatribes call into question his sincerity.
Abbas—the man who became president on the pledge to finally make a deal with the Israelis through public diplomacy and nonviolence—has morphed into Arafat, the very figure he pledged not to become. It’s a remarkable fall from grace for a leader who started with such potential.
The Political Education of Mahmoud Abbas
At the time of Abbas’s ascension, Western leaders could not have imagined a more ideal Palestinian leader. In the last years of his presidency, Arafat had drawn the Palestinians into a bloody intifada, or uprising, which provoked an Israeli siege of his headquarters in Ramallah and the construction of a separation barrier between parts of the West Bank and Israel. Towards the end of the intifada, many in the Palestinian leadership knew it was a mistake. “We told Arafat he was gambling with [the intifada],” one senior Fatah official recalled later. “We told him he would turn the whole world against us.”
Abbas, too, had turned against Arafat, campaigning against the violence and admonishing local chiefs in Gaza for the “destruction of all we have built.” This endeared him to Israel and the West, paving the way for him to become Arafat’s prime minister in 2003, and later president in 2005. And it was his resignation in defiance of Arafat that garnered him acclaim from his peers, ultimately leading to his selection as Arafat’s successor.
Now, the roles have been reversed. For years now, a majority of Palestinians have wanted Abbas to resign. The cornerstone of his foreign policy—seeking international recognition for an independent Palestinian state—has largely proven fruitless. At home, he has curbed the space for dissent, enacting laws allowing the arrest of citizens for criticizing his government on social media. His Fatah party is split between rivals who challenge his rule outright, like the exiled former strongman Muhammad Dahlan, and those like vice president Mahmoud al-Aloul, who declared “all forms of resistance” legitimate after Trump gave a speech in which he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Through it all, Abbas has maintained a firm commitment to security coordination with Israel, despite the fact that this is a deeply unpopular, emotive issue for Palestinians. His “sacred” commitment has only further alienated him from his people.
Abbas seems aware of this disconnect from Palestinians, and is trying to bridge the divide. In recent years, many Palestinians have begun supporting a one-state approach, one that forgoes the traditional Oslo-era two-state plan. For Abbas, the Palestinian official responsible for ushering his people into the Oslo years, such a stance is seemingly unfathomable. Yet as support among Palestinians for the one-state approach has grown, Abbas has referenced it more. At the UN General Assembly this year, he declared the two-state solution to be “in jeopardy” and warned that he might “search for alternatives that preserve our rights.” Only minutes after Trump’s speech, Saeb Erekat, his top negotiator, declared that the two-state solution “is over” and that “now is the time to transform the struggle for one-state with equal rights.”
Similarly, many Palestinians have long viewed Abbas’s aversion to popular protests as a hindrance. Recent polls have found a clear majority of Palestinians support popular protests, like the ones in Jerusalem last summer where thousands took to the streets to protest Israel’s installation of metal detectors on the Temple Mount-al-Aqsa Mosque compound after a terror attack. At the time, Abbas repeatedly voiced his support for these protests; in his recent speech, he referenced the popular protests at least three times.
This is a marked shift from several years ago, when the Palestinian leadership feared that the ire animating wide-scale protests may be redirected back at them, challenging their rule. In recent years, protests against Palestinian Authority policies on things like teacher salaries and social-security payments have roiled Ramallah, to the point where Abbas’s forces have taken an increasingly heavy hand. Indeed, the change in his rhetoric is the chief reason why he won’t be able to usher in a new strategy—most people simply won’t believe his change in tone is genuine.
When Abbas does eventually leave the scene (on Sunday, he said that this may be “the last time you see me here”), his defining policy positions—a preference for negotiations adhering to the two-state solution formula, a laudable commitment to non-violence, and a resolute commitment to security coordination with Israel—could likely go with him. Whoever rises to follow him may well do so because of his contrast with Abbas, in the same way that Abbas took Arafat’s place after his death in 2004 on the promise of negotiations over open conflict.
This is the larger tragedy of Mahmoud Abbas. In him, the world saw a reformist, a leader who could get the Palestinians to the table and possibly clear the hurdle for the two-state solution. Instead, he has morphed into a bureaucratic tyrant at home, hostile to America and downright incendiary towards Israel. His rule has alienated his people, leaving them disillusioned and disenfranchised. He likely has inadvertently tipped the scales in favor of a more volatile successor. And that, to use his own words, may just result in the destruction of all that has been built.
TERRA INCOGNITA: ABBAS, FAKHRI NASHASHIBI AND THE LEGACY OF THE MUFTI
Abbas’s words are part of a long tradition that has sought to combat Zionism through religious and nationalist responses to Jewish claims.
In his speech to the emergency summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Wednesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sought to downplay Jewish connections to Jerusalem.
“They are really excellent in faking and counterfeiting history,” he claimed, asserting that Jewish claims to the city were based on “fake” history, as a way to underpin his anger over the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Unfortunately Abbas’s words are part of a long tradition dating back to the 1920s that has sought to combat Zionism through religious and nationalist responses to Jewish claims. This has not worked but it inflames the conflict and makes it more difficult to resolve.
On Saturday I went to Salah a-Din Street in Jerusalem to see the clashes between border police and Palestinians protesting the decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The teenagers who were protesting had come in response to calls for “three days of rage” against Israel and the decision. They carried a Palestinian flag and chanted “Allahu akbar,” or “God is greatest.”
Police responded by chasing after them and detaining some for throwing stones. At one point some of the press and tourists who were caught in the clashes got shoehorned into the stairwell of a building.
As I watched the melee outside a man whispered, “Do you want a better view?” Of course.
Along with a Scandinavian tourist we were led up to the roof. The man had access because he was the contractor for some work being done. “This conflict has gone on for a long time,” he said, pointing down to the police who were dragging away a teenager.
“Let’s step back, we don’t want them to think we’re throwing stones from up here,” he urged. Then he asked us to walk to the other side of the roof which overlooked a pretty cemetery.
The cemetery was jarring, sitting as it did amid the urban decay and depressing scenes on the other side.
It was peaceful and quiet. This cemetery abuts and overlooks the East Jerusalem Central Bus station and a site once known as “Jeremiah’s Grotto” that is now the site of a minaret.
There in the distance amid the tombstones was a kind of colonnade. “That is the grave of Fakhri Nashashibi,” said the contractor who was showing off the roof. Fakhri was one of the leading members of the Nashashibi family in the 1930s and an opponent of the mufti of Mandate Palestine, Hajj Amin al-Husseini. In contrast to the mufti the Nashashibis thought there could be a compromise with Zionism.
The East Jerusalem cemetery where Fakhri Nashashibi is buried (Seth J. Frantzman)The East Jerusalem cemetery where Fakhri Nashashibi is buried (Seth J. Frantzman)
The mufti was an implacable foe of Jews and Zionism.
Born in 1897, Husseini was appointed grand mufti of Jerusalem in 1921. He was already known for inciting rioters to murder Jews in 1920 during the Nebi Musa riots. He had been sentenced to 10 years in prison by a British military court for his role.
Oddly he received amnesty from the British high commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel, and became head of the Supreme Muslim Council.
Husseini was one of the first to latch onto the propaganda of “al-Aksa is in danger” to mobilize crowds and encourage opposition to Jewish settlement in Jerusalem and the land that became the State of Israel. He targeted Jewish prayer at the Western Wall in 1929 to encourage riots that led to the murder of more than 300 Jews. In subsequent testimony to the Shaw Commission in 1930 he claimed that Jews were influencing London and “world powers as well as the League of Nations in order to take possession of the Western Wall of the mosque at Aksa, called al-Burak, or to raise claims over the place.”
Husseini was not referencing the mosque itself, but claiming that the Kotel was actually part of the “wall” of the mosque and a holy site called “al-Burak,” where he claimed the Prophet Muhammad had tethered his winged animal on his night flight to Jerusalem. “Having realized by bitter experience the unlimited greedy aspirations of the Jews in this respect, Muslims believe that the Jews’ aim is to take possession of the Mosque of al-Aksa gradually on the pretense that it is the Temple, by starting with the Western Wall of this place, which is an inseparable part of the mosque,” the mufti told the commission.
The mufti strategically exploited antisemitism and combined it with religious extremism to encourage opposition to Zionism and Jewish presence. The crowds he incited didn’t focus their wrath only on “Zionists,” but also on religious Jews who played no role in Zionism, in places such as Hebron, where his incitement led to the expulsion and extermination of the Jewish community in 1929.
Eventually Husseini’s extremism proved too much for even the British, who sought to arrest him when he encouraged a revolt against their rule. He fled to the Temple Mount before fleeing to Lebanon in 1937. In British Palestine the mufti’s fighters targeted not only Jews and the British but also moderate Palestinian Arabs such as the Nashashibis. Then he went to Iraq in 1939 where he began flirtations with the Nazis partnered with local leader Rashid Ali.
The mufti’s incitement helped lead to the Farhud pogrom against Jews in Baghdad in 1941. He then fled to Italy and Germany, meeting Hitler in November 1941.
round the same time that the mufti ended up in Berlin, his agents sought out and assassinated Fakhri Nashashibi. Nashashibi’s body was brought back to Jerusalem where his funeral was attended by Chief Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Moshe Shertok, and Jerusalem mayor Daniel Auster.
Ben-Zvi would go on to be the second president of Israel, and Shertok, as Moshe Sharett, the second prime minister.
More than 75 years after Nashashibi’s death his life is in stark comparison to the words Abbas uttered in Istanbul. The Palestinian Authority president claimed that Jews are fabricating their historical connections to Jerusalem. “They are really masters in this and it is mentioned in the holy Koran they fabricate truth and they try to do that [fabricate] and they believe in that, but we have been there in this location for thousands of years.”
Abbas’s incitement was in front of the representatives of 50 Muslim countries and almost two-dozen Muslim heads of state. Yet at the same time there is supposed to be a peace agreement and east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestine.
The contradictions between Abbas’s rhetoric and the desire for a peace agreement are one of the central problems in the conflict. There are many other challenges as well, such as the inability to disentangle Jewish and Palestinian areas in the West Bank.
But at the heart of the conflict since the 1920s has been a persistent denial of the existence of Jewish history. It has not been a denial shared by all. There were many other chances to embrace a different and more compromising view of history. That history is buried near Salah a-Din Street in east Jerusalem.
It is perhaps not an irony that Fakhri Nashashibi was buried near the street named for the Kurdish sultan Salah a-Din who had amicable relations with Jews. The Jewish sage Maimonides was a court physician to Salah a-Din. If these historical figures could see the abysmal state of affairs in Jerusalem today and the incitement, they would be shocked. They would have been shocked by the speech in Istanbul.
PALESTINIAN LEADER MAHMOUD ABBAS CONDEMNED OVER HOLOCAUST COMMENTS
FILE - In a Thursday, May 11, 2017 file photo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia.
Global News Stephen Farrell, Reuters, (Reporting by Alastair Macdonald ; @macdonaldrtr; editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek) May 2 2018
BRUSSELS – The European Union’s foreign service condemned remarks on the Holocaust by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as “unacceptable”, echoing criticism on Wednesday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Jewish groups and diplomats also condemned Abbas’ comments, made in a speech on Monday to the Palestinian National Council, that Jews had suffered historically not because of their religion but because they had served as bankers and money lenders.
In strikingly blunt language from Brussels, the European External Action Service said in a statement: “The speech Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivered on 30 April contained unacceptable remarks concerning the origins of the Holocaust and Israel’s legitimacy.
“Such rhetoric will only play into the hands of those who do not want a two-state solution, which President Abbas has repeatedly advocated.”
Netanyahu accused Abbas of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial Wednesday after the Palestinian leader suggested in a speech that historic persecution of European Jews had been caused by their conduct.
“It would appear that, once a Holocaust denier, always a Holocaust denier,” Netanyahu said on Twitter.
“I call upon the international community to condemn the grave anti-Semitism of Abu Mazen (Abbas), which should have long since passed from this world.”
Abbas said in his speech that Jews living in Europe had suffered massacres “every 10 to 15 years in some country since the 11th century and until the Holocaust”.
Citing books written by various authors, Abbas argued: “They say hatred against Jews was not because of their religion, it was because of their social profession. So the Jewish issue that had spread against the Jews across Europe was not because of their religion, it was because of usury and banks.”
Responding to the Israeli criticism, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas’ words had been “twisted” and that he had been citing the views of some historians.
“The president did not deny the massacres the Jews were subject to, including the Holocaust,” Erekat said in a statement published on the official Palestinian news agency WAFA. “PresidentAbbas has stressed frequently his respect for the religion of Judaism, and that our problem is with who occupies our land.”
But Jewish leaders and others echoed Netanyahu’s criticism.
“Abbas’ speech in Ramallah are the words of a classic anti-Semite,” said Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the U.S.-based Jewish human rights organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“Instead of blaming the Jews, he should look in his own backyard to the role played by the Grand Mufti in supporting Adolf Hitler’s Final Solution,” they added.
They were referring to Muslim Grand Mufti Haj Amin Husseini, a World War Two ally of Adolf Hitler, whose “Final Solution” led to the killing of six million Jews in Europe.
In Jerusalem, U.N. Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov called Abbas’ comments “deeply disturbing”.
“Leaders have an obligation to confront anti-Semitism everywhere and always, not perpetuate the conspiracy theories that fuel it,” he said.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman tweeted that Abbas had “reached a new low in attributing the cause of massacres of Jewish people over the years to their ‘social behavior'”.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and the foreign service of the European Union, the biggest donor of aid to the Palestinians, also condemned the comments.
Abbas, 82, made his remarks in the West Bank city of Ramallah at a rare meeting of the Palestinian National Council, the de facto parliament of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which Abbas heads.
A veteran member of Fatah, the dominant faction of the PLO, Abbas served for decades as a loyal deputy of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat. He assumed the leadership of Fatah, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority after Arafat died in 2004.
Abbas was born in 1935 in Safat, a town in the north of what was then British-ruled Palestine. His family became refugees in 1948, fleeing across the border to Syria as violence intensified between Jews and Arabs, culminating in war between the newly created State of Israel and its Arab neighbours in May 1948.
In 1982 Abbas obtained a doctorate in history at the Moscow Institute of Orientalism in the then-Soviet Union. His dissertation, entitled “The Secret Relationship between Nazism and the Zionist Movement”, drew widespread criticism from Jewish groups, who accused him of Holocaust denial.
Netanyahu called for international condemnation of “anti-Semitism” by Abbas over remarks on Monday in which the Palestinian leader suggested historic persecution of Jews in Europe was caused by their conduct.
The EEAS added: “Antisemitism is not only a threat for Jews but a fundamental menace to our open and liberal societies.
“The European Union remains committed to combat any form of anti-Semitism and any attempt to condone, justify or grossly trivialise the Holocaust.”