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Abbas New Leader of Palestinians

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The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
The Life of Yasser Arafat

January 10, 2005

Mahmoud Abbas, who succeeded Yasser Arafat as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, was elected president of the Palestinian state on Sunday. He received more than two-thirds of the votes.

The election took place amid continued strife over the Palestinian people's place in the Middle East. The age-old conflict with Israel over territorial rights is still filled with disagreements over borders and boundaries, disagreements that are punctuated with gunfire, rocket fire, and finger-pointing and deaths on both sides. The current phase of political disagreement is particularly harsh in regard to settlement rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, lands seized in the Six-Day War in 1967. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has vowed to speed up withdrawal of Israeli people from these two areas, so Palestinian people can move in. But many Palestinians do not trust Israel and are calling for their people and its leader to stand fast and demand international recognition. In past public statements, Abbas has sometimes voiced these same ideas. However, he has also called for an end to the bloodshed that has often accompanied the drive for peace.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and 800 other international officials were on hand to witness the voting, to make sure that Israeli guards allowed Palestinians to travel through military checkpoints to polling places. No major incidents were reported, and voting was steady throughout the day. A couple rockets were fired into the Gaza Strip from Palestinian positions, but no one was injured.

Abbas was born in Palestine in 1935. He was 13 when the state of Israel was founded. He went to Syria and eventually taught school there. He also taught law in neighboring Egypt. He was also involved heavily in underground politics, struggling for his people's right to have their own country. He was one of the founding members of Fatah, a group whose leader was Arafat and whose goal was to take back Palestinian land by force.

Abbas traveled with Arafat often, especially when the PLO leader went into exile in the 1970s and 1980s. More content to work behind the scenes, Abbas initiated secret contacts with Israeli leaders and is generally considered one of the architects of the 1993 Oslo peace accord, which is the closest the two sides have come yet to attaining a peaceful solution to their shared problem.

He continued to work for the Palestinian cause, even as hopes for continued peace unraveled. He was named prime minister of the Palestinian Authority in 2003. Israel and the United States welcomed this announcement because both countries by that time had refused to have any more dealings with Arafat, whose only path to peace seemed to involve violence. But Abbas and Arafat couldn't get along, and Abbas resigned a few months after taking office. When Arafat died last November, Abbas was named head of the PLO.

Graphics courtesy of ClipArt.com

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