Later this year, residents under the governance of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and those living in the Gaza Strip will be able to vote in elections, the first of their kind in 15 years. In May, legislative elections will be held, and two months later, a presidential election will be held, to select the president of the Palestinian National Authority.
The current president, Mahmoud Abbas, has been in power for more than 16 years, despite officially serving a four-year term, and even at the age of 85, he is scheduled to once again run in this year’s election.
Born in 1935 in what is now Safed, northern Israel, Abbas and his family left the country during the 1948 War of Independence, when invading Arab armies warned Arab residents of Israel to leave temporarily under the expectation they would soon destroy the nascent Jewish state. Abbas grew up in Syria and attended the University of Damascus, before settling in Egypt.
Starting in the 1950s, Abbas began a lifetime involvement with the Palestinian-Arab cause, and while he presented a more genteel facade to the world – in contrast to Yasser Arafat’s more bombastic tone – Abbas and Arafat were of one mind, ideologically.
Part of Abbas’ role was to raise funds for the Palestinian armed struggle, and some financing he secured helped to support the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympic games.
But it was Abbas’ later academic pursuits which are noteworthy, and help to shine light on his ideological outlook. In 1982, Abbas completed a PhD dissertation while at Patrice Lumumba People’s Friendship University in Moscow, titled “The Connection between the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement.”
In the dissertation, Abbas argued that the Holocaust, as the world knows it, is essentially a fiction concocted by the Zionist enterprise to help create the State of Israel. “The Zionist movement led a broad campaign of incitement against the Jews living under Nazi rule, in order to arouse the government’s hatred of them, to fuel vengeance against them, and to expand the mass extermination,” Abbas wrote.
Abbas also called into question the fact that six million Jews died in the Holocaust, and that the figure was embellished by the Zionists to create sympathy for their cause: “It seems that the Zionist movement’s stake in inflating the number of murdered in the war was aimed at [ensuring] great gains. This led it to confirm the number [6 million], to establish it in world opinion, and by doing so to arouse more pangs of conscience and sympathy for Zionism in general. Many scholars have debated the question of the 6 million figure, and reached perplexing conclusions, according to which the Jewish victims total hundreds of thousands.”
In the 1990s and beyond, when Yasser Arafat was the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (the precursor to the Palestinian Authority), Abbas took on a role of a moderate voice in public, and in 1995 he co-authored the Beilin–Abu Mazen agreement, with Israeli political Yossi Beilin, which created a general outline for a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement. But the agreement never had any formal approval from the Palestinian Authority, so Abbas and the Palestinian leadership as a whole was able to show his peaceful bona fides without ever having to make any steps towards peace.
Into the 2000’s, Abbas’ relationship with PA President Arafat soured, but when the latter died in 2004, Abbas was seen as the most likely successor, and in 2005 was elected president, in a role he has held ever since.
While Yasser Arafat created the movement to replace Israel with a Palestinian state, he was limited by his public calls for violence against Israel. And in his later years, when he called for terror attacks against Israel in his native Arabic, he called for peace in English-language interviews but his reputation as a terrorist never fully disappeared.
While various Palestinian Authority organs regularly engage in incitement, Abbas is also known for personally engaging in public incitement. For example, in 2015, Abbas incited Palestinians to violence, terrorism and bloodshed in Jerusalem by saying on PA TV “We welcome every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem. This is pure blood, clean blood, blood on its way to Allah. With the help of Allah, every shaheed (martyr) will be in heaven, and every wounded will get his reward.” He went on to express an extreme, one-sided and uncompromising position that only the Palestinians have rights to Jerusalem: “…Al-Aqsa is ours and the (Church of the) Holy Sepulcher is ours. Everything is ours.”
But Mahmoud Abbas has always been far more diplomatic than his predecessor, preferring to call for peace in public interviews. But his actions tell a very different story. The Palestinian Authority has created a generation of Palestinians whose minds have been poisoned by anti-Israel and antisemitic propaganda in schools, mosques, public media and elsewhere. Public calls for peace are irrelevant as long as long as incitement to violence continues to permeate through official channels. Mahmoud Abbas has mastered the art of Palestinian double-speak: Telling western audiences of his desire for peace and co-existence with Israelis, while telling Palestinians that a future Palestinian state must be Judenrein, by supporting the demographic ticking bomb known as the “right of return” and for providing financial stipends to terrorists through the pay-for-slay program.
Abbas has always presented himself as the moderate alternative to Yasser Arafat, but his life’s work – whether denying the Holocaust or perpetuating the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s existence – shows a picture of a leader hostile to Israel’s existence, but sophisticated enough to hide it from the world.