Abbas in the spotlight: Who is the Palestinian president?
The president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas shown this week at the United Nations.
September 21st, 2011
03:07 PM ET

Abbas in the spotlight: Who is the Palestinian president?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is in the spotlight this week at the United Nations General Assembly where he plans to urge the U.N. to recognize an independent Palestinian state.

Americans and Europeans have for weeks been trying to restart peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Ultimately, the U.S. and allies fear that Abbas' request will stoke already tense relations between Israelis and Palestinians, and ignite violent clashes.

Generally considered by the West to be a moderate, Abbas has been president of the Palestinian Authority since 2009. Time magazine describes him as a snowy-haired chain smoker who loves to negotiate.

Abbas is in his late 70s and has three children. His own childhood was shaken in 1948 when under British mandate, his family left their town of Safed, in what is now northern Israel. Safed is today considered one of Judaism's four Holy Cities. The young Abbas' family relocated to Syria. He took a job laying floor tiles and also taught elementary school. He went on to earn a law degree and at a college in Moscow obtained a PhD in history.

One of Abbas' first forays into politics came in 1959 when he helped found the Palestinian National Liberation Movement, more commonly known as Fatah. In the late 1990s, Abbas began serving as Yasser Arafat's spokesperson in missions to Eastern Europe and the Gulf states. He also cultivated ties to Europeans sympathetic to the cause of greater autonomy for Palestinians.

Abbas played a role in the 1993 historic peace accord between PLO Chairman Arafat and Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and as part of that accompanied Arafat to the White House to sign the agreement.

Two years later, the future Palestinian president signed another peace agreement with Israel.

In March 2003, Abbas became prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. In that role, he met with former President George W. Bush and the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to discuss peace negotiations. But only six months into his leadership, Abbas resigned, saying that he didn't get enough support for his efforts at peace from his own party.

Terrorists were continuing to attack Israeli civilians, and his attempts to control the violence was failing. Abbas also blamed Israel and the Bush administration for undermining his administration.

Throughout the early and middle 2000s, Abbas worked to negotiate peace and in late 2007 he attended Annapolis Middle East Peace Conference, the first formal peace conference sponsored by the U.S. since 2000. Top diplomats and representatives from dozens of countries and organizations also attended, hoping to restart stalled Middle East peace negotiations.

In 2008, Abbas met with President Bush at the White House and the next year his term ended. In a controversial move, his term was later extended by the PLO central committee.

In a speech last Friday, Abbas announced  plans to make a major request on behalf of Palestinians at his annual trip to the United Nations.

"We are going to the United Nations to attain full membership," he said.
Abbas is careful to note that the request not be taken to mean anything more than a request. "We are not going to bring independence. Let's not exaggerate," he said. "We will continue to negotiate."

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Filed under: Israel • Mahmoud Abbas • Palestinians
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Viva

    They don't have a "president" because Palestine DOES NOT exist!

    September 21, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. saywhat

    The Oslo accord for resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict turned into a farce & a cruel joke for Palestinians in the last ten years. Growing criticism from Jews in Israel & abroad of the policies of the far-far right Zionist regime under Netanyahu and support for the two-state solution, Abbas is a man who is doing the best in a hopeless situation for his people.
    Its a different matter though that under intense pressure from the Netanyahu & the Zionist lobby on our soil and their followers in the Congress of US of A with dual loyalty, we do not have the gall to stand on the right side of history on this crucial moment at the U.N.

    Resolving this issue honestly and in a just manner is in the vital interests of US. Geo-political, strategic, economic and military ( as any commander on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan would tell you). But that is not going to happen.

    September 21, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thinker23

      The Oslo Accords became null and void in August, 2000 when Abbas' predecessor and former boss Yasser Arafat walked out of the Camp David Summit and started a twrrorist war known as the Intifadah.

      September 21, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thinker23

      Resolving the issue honestly and in a just manner would involve FORCING the Palestinians to stop violence, recognize Israel and ask for peace negotiations. Arecyou sure that THIS is what you want?

      September 21, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Dave

    You mean

    Generally considered by the West to be a moderate - because we never report that he wrote a book denying the holocaust and said he would never ever agree to any agreement in which Israel was not destroyed demographically by allowwing .illions of Palestinians to move to Israel.

    Generally considered by the West to be a moderate - eventhough his government said last week that 45% of Palestinians living in the west bank would continue to be politcal pawns and not be granted citizenship becuse they lived in refugee camps even if the SC voted to create Palestine.

    Generally considered by the West to be a moderate - despite the fact that he routinely honors the worst mass murderers of Israeli civilians as heros of the palestinian people.

    Generally considered by the West to be a moderate - despite the fact that his state run schools, television and radio stations continue to incite the most vile antisemetic hatred possible.

    Generally considered by the West to be a moderate - eventhough the origainization which he heads, the PLO, has never removed from its charter the goal of the complete destruction of Israel.

    Other than that, a great guy...

    September 21, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thinker23

      Like most other similar terms the word 'moderate' is RELATIVE. In comparison to bin Laden, Abu Nidal or his friends from Hamas and Islamic Jihad Abbas is a "moderate"...

      September 21, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. RUFFNUTT (kcmo , hut tub repairman & maker of disco balls)

    who cares.. i want jobs... dey terk er jerbs!!!!!

    September 21, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  5. moses kestenbaum ODA

    Big ass abbas take the two B's out of his name and your left with ASS that what this con is

    September 21, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Caroline

    Who is the Palestinian president? a terrorist , and Palestine state doesnt exist, Palestinians country is Jordania....

    September 22, 2011 at 12:51 am | Report abuse |
  7. jbm66

    650,000 Jews were kicked out of their homes in 1948, not in Europe or Russia, but in Arab lands, that is the big Secret the arabs have been trying to hide from the world, and with great success i might add. They settled in land not settled by the arabs. The arabs still had their villiages, remember Palistine was never a country, only arab villages as part of the Ottoman empire. They could have kept those villages and made a country of their own called palistine that could have lived side by side with Israel, but their Genocidal racism got in the way and tried to drive the Jews into the sea. Well gues what they lost, and have been living with their lies, jealosy and hatred ever since. Facts can be very annoying...

    September 23, 2011 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |