Former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, a critic of the most recent Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, was named leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization on Thursday within hours of the death of Yasser Arafat.
Abbas, who quit the premiership after a fight with Arafat, is respected internationally and among Palestinians. He was second-ranking leader of Palestine Liberation Organization behind Arafat.
Also known as Abu Mazen, he helped found PLO in 1964 and later served as secretary-general of PLO executive committee and member of Palestine National Council, the PLO’s legislature.
He fell from favor after resigning the premiership, but Palestinian officials said Abbas made a resurgence as Arafat lay dying in a hospital near Paris.
The low-key politician, who has joined peace talks with Israel and criticized the Palestinian uprising, inaugurated the “road map” peace plan at a summit in June 2003 with President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He also worked to secure a cease-fire agreement with Palestinian militant groups.
But Sharon refused to help Abbas build grassroots support by releasing Palestinian prisoners, and Arafat, jealously guarding his power, repeatedly undermined his prime minister. In September 2003, Abbas resigned in frustration, so angry with Arafat that he refused to speak to his old boss for more than a year.
Abbas ended his feud with the Palestinian leader, paying his respects in a visit to Arafat’s Ramallah compound.
When Arafat left for emergency medical treatment in France on Oct. 29, Abbas and the current prime minister, Ahmed Queria, emerged as joint caretakers.
In an apparent effort to further his bid to succeed Arafat, Abbas sent a warm note to Bush last week, congratulating him on his re-election victory.