At the recent meeting of the Organization for Islamic Co-operation held in Istanbul, Turkey, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, stated that Jews were excellent at fabricating history, citing the Qur’an as his authority. In September of 2015, he said of Jews visiting the Temple Mount, “Al-Aqsa is ours, and so is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet.”
Abbas wrote his doctoral thesis at a Soviet university in 1982. His thesis argued that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis and sought to increase the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust in order to increase their claim to a share of the spoils at the end of the Second World War.
In 2016, it become known that Abbas had been a KGB agent. This was revealed in documents released by former KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin.
Who is Mahmoud Abbas and what does he want? Why is he considered moderate? Was there ever any prospect of concluding a peace agreement with a PA led by him?
Abbas was a co-founder of Fatah in 1965 and worked closely with PLO leader Yasser Arafat. It was Abbas who was involved in the secret negotiations in the 1990s that eventually led to the Oslo accords.
In 1995, he and Israeli negotiator Yossi Beilin prepared a secret framework for a final-status agreement that involved Israeli withdrawal from most of the territory captured in 1967, and joint administration of Jerusalem.
After the Second Intifadah, Abbas was critical of Palestinian violence and said it had cost the Palestinians much of what they had built. In 2003, Abbas was appointed PA prime minister. During his brief term of office, he signed off on the U.S. road map for peace put forward by the George W. Bush administration. He resigned after four months because Arafat refused to give him real power.
In 2005, Abbas won the presidency. While campaigning, he expressed willingness to return to the bargaining table if elected. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in turn, said that if Abbas followed the road map, he would co-ordinate the withdrawal from Gaza with the PA. Abbas refused to co-operate and Israel withdrew from Gaza unilaterally.
In 2006, George W. Bush gave the PA $50 million as a result of a crackdown on terrorism. In 2008, Sharon’s successor, Ehud Olmert, was said to have offered Abbas a peace map that would have granted the PA a share of Jerusalem and almost all of the captured territory, plus Israeli territory in return for the settlement blocs that Israel would retain. Abbas offered no formal response to this offer and Olmert fell from power.
In 2012, Abbas said that he had no right of return to his birthplace in Safed, but only a right to return to Palestinian territory outside of the 1967 borders of Israel. This statement was warmly welcomed at the time by former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who said it showed his moderation. Israelis hailed his renunciation of the right of return. However, Abbas denied at the time that he had done any such thing and insisted that his statement applied only to himself.
Although Abbas has criticized violence, he has always insisted that the Palestinians have a right of return to Israel. Beilin has said that he is no moderate. Under Abbas’ administration, the PA has continued to provide generous pensions to the families of people killed committing acts of terrorism.
Abbas is now 82 and has held the presidency much longer than the four-year term to which he was elected. In his time in office, Gaza fell under the control of Hamas and little or no progress has been made toward peace. In spite of his occasional conciliatory words, repeated outbreaks of violence have occurred on his watch. Abbas has been too weak and ambivalent to lead his people to peace with Israel.