Published November 20, 2004
JERUSALEM – Interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is a veteran advocate of peace with Israel and an outspoken critic of the second intifada.
The 69-year-old Abbas was confirmed by parliament as prime minister on April 29, 2003, but his tenure was marred by fighting with former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. President George W. Bush had refused to negotiate with Arafat when he was alive, while Abbas was viewed favorably by Washington and other advocates of ending terrorism in the region. But Abbas' resignation four months later on Sept. 6, 2003, stunned the world and ground the peace process to a halt.
Abbas' appointment to the No. 2 post was a condition for implementation of the so-called road map, pushed by the United States in conjunction with the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.
It was hoped that Abbas would ease powers away from Arafat without being accused of betraying a national symbol, and re-establish trust with Israel after years of fierce violence without abandoning the Palestinians' bedrock positions.
Prospects for the road map started to fade soon after Abbas quit, but Arafat's death in Paris on Nov. 11, 2004, appeared to open the door to reviving the peace process.
Abbas was elected chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization within hours of Arafat's death, putting him on track to take the iconic leader's place, and he is expected to cruise to victory in the Palestinian elections on Jan. 9.
Abbas was one of the first top PLO officials to recognize Israel and distanced himself from terror activities. He led Palestinian negotiators in peace talks in the 1990s and has met with Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister.
Abbas has also been a critic of the armed conflict that emerged from the Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000. He said what happened "is a complete destruction of everything we built."
Abbas was born in 1935 in the hilltop town of Safed, now in northern Israel. He is married and has two sons, both businessmen. Abbas and his family fled to Syria during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that led to Israel's creation.
After helping found Arafat's Fatah party in 1965, Abbas managed finances for the movement and distanced himself from terror activities.
In a meeting with Fatah officials last year, Abbas said the outbreak of the uprising in September 2000 was understandable but should not have been allowed to deteriorate into an armed conflict.
Over the years, Abbas has avoided the spotlight, routinely turning down requests for interviews. His critics say he is too removed from ordinary Palestinians, although he has nurtured close ties with political factions, trade unions and other groups.
Several years ago, Abbas was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He underwent surgery in the United States, and aides say he is healthy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.