Mahmoud Abbas reelected head of Palestine Liberation Organization

Abbas said the 'Jewish issue' was 'not because of their religion'.

RAMALLAH - President Mahmud Abbas was reelected head of the Palestine Liberation Organization Friday, as the veteran leader seeks to strengthen his control over politics in the occupied West Bank.
A four-day meeting of the PLO's parliament, the Palestinian National Council (PNC), which was not attended by Abbas's Islamist rivals Hamas, backed Abbas and selected a new leadership of the PLO's executive committee.
"President Abu Mazen (Abbas) was nominated and unanimously approved as the president of the State of Palestine," senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said.
"An executive committee was chosen and an executive council was chosen."
The PLO, an umbrella group which is dominated by Abbas's Fatah party and includes most Palestinian factions but not Hamas, represents the Palestinians internationally.
The first regular PNC meeting in 22 years was seen as an opportunity for 82-year-old Abbas to try to increase his legitimacy.
Although his term as president expired in 2009, infighting with Hamas has made elections impossible.
But the event was overshadowed by comments made by Abbas during his opening speech in which he appeared to blame Jewish behaviour for their persecution in Europe.
Israel, the European Union, the United States and others lined up to criticise his words.
Abbas, 82, was excoriated by Israeli and Jewish leaders and diplomats who accused him of Holocaust denial.
He said that Jews living in Europe had suffered massacres "every 10 to 15 years in some country since the 11th century and until the Holocaust".
Citing books written by various authors, Abbas said: "They say hatred against Jews was not because of their religion, it was because of their social profession. So the Jewish issue that had spread against the Jews across Europe was not because of their religion, it was because of usury and banks."
Reacting to the speech, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday accused Abbas of Holocaust denial. Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the U.S.-based Jewish human rights organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center said Abbas' words were those of "a classic anti-Semite".
U.N. Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov called Abbas' comments "deeply disturbing".
Abbas on Friday offered an apology, calling the Holocaust the "most heinous crime in history" in a statement issued by his office in Ramallah.
"If people were offended by my statement in front of the PNC, especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologize to them," Abbas said in the statement.
"I would like to assure everyone that it was not my intention to do so, and to reiterate my full respect for the Jewish faith, as well as other monotheistic faiths."
Abbas did not directly address the upcoming US move of its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to illegally occupied Jerusalem, a decision that prompted the Palestinians to boycott the Trump administration.
The new executive committee, the most senior body of the PLO and effectively Abbas's cabinet, included nine new names out of 15.
A number of potential rivals, including Yasser Abed Rabbo, were removed.
The previously 18-member committee was kept to just 15 representatives to leave space for Hamas and two smaller parties that boycotted the event.
Some opposed the event being held in the illegally occupied West Bank, where Israel controls Palestinians' movement, and others wanted the meeting to be postponed until a later date.
Hamas, which controls Gaza, has dismissed the PNC meeting.
A reconciliation deal signed by Hamas and Abbas's Fatah party in October has collapsed.