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Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen]

Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, was born in 1935 in the town of Safad, in what is now northern Israel. In 1948, Abbas and his family moved to Syria. During the late 1950s, Abbas lived in Qatar where he spent time recruiting support for the Palestinian liberation movement.

Along with Yasser Arafat, Abbas was one of the primary founders of Fatah, which has held the majority of representatives in the Palestine Liberation Organization since its formation in 1964. As a member of the PLO, Abbas attempted negotiations with some Israeli leaders, but many fundamentalist Palestinian leaders criticized Abbas for his moderate approach. Nevertheless, Abbas was elected to the PLO Executive Committee in 1980, which comprises less than twenty individuals who oversee various departments within the PLO.

In 1984, Abbas was appointed to direct the PLO Department of National Affairs. Primarily through secret negotiations with Israeli leaders, Abbas contributed a great deal to the Oslo Accords, and he accompanied Arafat to a White House signing ceremony in 1993. Since that time, Abbas has called for a halt to Palestinian violence in order to remove Israel's excuse for fighting against Palestinians. After decades in exile, he returned to Palestinian territories in 1995.

Abbas was selected to be the Secretary General of the PLO Executive Committee in 1996, and in 1998, Arafat reportedly told US president Bill Clinton that his successor would be Mahmoud Abbas. In response to US and Israeli pressure, he was nominated Prime Minister of the Palestinian Legislative Council in April 2003. Although Prime Minister, Abbas' authority was limited by Arafat's refusal to hand over control of security forces and other government functions, which prompted Abbas to resign from the position in early September 2003. As a result of his apparent willingness to negotiate with Israel, Abbas has enjoyed little popular support among Palestinians. Following his resignation, Abbas continued to serve as the Secretary General of the PLO Executive Committee.

Abbas received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Law from the University of Damascus, and a Ph.D in History from the Oriental College of Moscow in the early 1980s, he is also the father of two sons.

The Palestinian Basic Law provides that the Speaker of the Parliament will succeed a President who dies, pending new elections. It is more likely, however, that the real successor will be Abu Mazen, who is the Secretary-General of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Central Committee. He was formerly Prime Minister, you may recall. The current Prime Minister is Abu Allah. But in the hierarchy, Abu Mazen is senior, and he is likely to be the first among equals after Arafat died. He is a pragmatist and a moderate. He does not have a strong following, however, among the Palestinian public; nor does any other Palestinian leader. The problem with Mahmoud Abbas is that although he sounded great to an American and to a European audience, he didn't have any constituency among Palestinians and, in fact, he rubbed people the wrong way. The other problem with him was when he didn't get the support he wanted from various parties, he simply resigned the Prime Minister's post.

Following Arrafat's death, the Palestinians presented a united front, selecting Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and his predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas to temporarily assume Mr. Arafat's duties. Mr. Queria took the reins of the Palestinian Authority, the self-governing entity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip established 10 years ago by the Oslo Peace accords. Mr. Abbas assumed Arafat's other two leadership positions, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Fatah political movement.

On 11 December 2004 Marwan Barghouti, the popular Palestinian leader, announced that he was pulling out of the upcoming presidential contest. This was seen as paving the way for Abu Mazen's election as President.

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