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.


Post by:
Filed under: Israel • Mahmoud Abbas • Palestinians