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Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas (محمد عباس) (born March 26, 1935), commonly known as Abu Mazen (ابو مازن), is a leading politician in Fatah. He served as Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA) from March to October 2003.

Abbas was born in Safed, in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine. After the founding of Israel and subsequent occupation of the rest of the former Mandate by Jordan and Egypt, he left for Egypt to study law. Subsequently, he entered graduate studies in Moscow, where he earned a doctorate. His doctoral thesis later became a book, The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism, which following his appointment as Prime Minister in 2003 was heavily criticized by some Jewish groups as an example of Holocaust denial. In an interview with Haaretz in May 2003, he claimed to have been merely quoting the wide range of scholarly disagreement over the Holocaust, but no longer harbored any desire to argue with the generally accepted figures; he further affirmed his belief that "the Holocaust was a terrible, unforgivable crime against the Jewish nation, a crime against humanity that cannot be accepted by humankind."

In the mid 1950s he became involved in underground Palestinian politics, and joined a number of exiled Palestinians in Qatar. While there, he recruited a number of people who would become key figures in the Palestine Liberation Organization, and was one of the founding members of Fatah in 1957.

Through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, he travelled with Arafat and the rest of the PA leadership in exile to Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia (see article on Yasser Arafat for details). Though he garnered little media attention, he is said to have had a powerful behind the scenes influence on the Palestinian Authority, and was widely regarded as a highly intellectual pragmatist. In particular, he is credited with initiating secretive contacts with left-wing and pacifist Jewish groups during the 1970s and 80s, and is considered by many to be a major architect of the 1993 Oslo peace accords (evidenced in part by the fact that he traveled with Arafat to the White House to sign the accords).

Though generally considered a moderate peace advocate, he has nonetheless been charged with involvement in terrorism: Mohammed Daoud Oudeh (Abu Daoud), the mastermind of the Munich Massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972, charges that his operation was funded by Abbas. However, Daoud is the sole source for these charges, and they have not been corroborated by others. [1] [1].

By early 2003, as both Israel and the United States had indicated their refusal to negotiate with Yasser Arafat, Abbas began to emerge as a candidate for a more visible leadership role. As one of the few remaining founding members of Fatah, he had some degree of credibility within the Palestinian cause, and his candidacy was bolstered by the fact that other high-profile Palestinians were for various reasons not suitable (the most notable, Marwan Bargouti, was under arrest in an Israel jail). Abbas's reputation as a pragmatist garnered him favor with the international community and certain elements of the Palestinian legislature, and pressure was soon brought on Arafat to appoint him Prime Minister. Arafat did so on March 19, 2003; initially Arafat attempted to eviscerate the post of Prime Minister, but eventually was forced to give Abbas some degree of real power.

However, the rest of Abbas's term as Prime Minister continued to be characterized by numerous conflicts between him and Arafat over the distribution of power between the two. Abbas had often hinted he would resign if not given more control over the PA's administration. In early September 2003 he confronted the PA parliament over this issue. The United States and Israel accuse Arafat of constantly undermining Abbas and his government.

In addition, Abbas came into conflict with Palestinian terrorist groups, notably Islamic Jihad and Hamas; his moderate pragmatic policies were diametrically opposed to their hard-line approach. Initially he pledged not to use force against the militants, in the interest of avoiding a civil war, and instead attempted negotiation. This was partially successful, resulting in a pledge from the two groups to honor a Palestinian cease-fire. However, an August 19, 2003 suicide bombing that killed 20 Israelis, for which Islamic Jihad and Hamas claimed joint responsibility, forced Abbas to pledge a crackdown in order to uphold the Palestinian Authority's side of the Road Map for Peace. This led to a power struggle with Arafat over control of the Palestinian security services; Arafat refused to release control to Abbas, thus preventing him from using them in a crackdown on militants.

The feud came to a head on September 6, 2003: Abbas submitted to Arafat his resignation from the post of Prime Minister, citing inability to carry out his duties in the face of continual opposition from Arafat and others in the Palestinian Authority and lack of support from Israel. He presided under a "caretaker" government until Ahmed Qurei was sworn in on October 7, 2003.