Double dating

82 or 83? The curious confusion over Mahmoud Abbas’s age

According to some sources, the Palestinian Authority president’s birthday is next week; others say it was in March

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 28, 2018. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 28, 2018. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

Myriad local and international news reports cover news of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the aging Palestinian leader who dominates the Palestinian political scene in the West Bank.

The reports often cover Abbas’s health, travels, speeches, positions on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, accusations against Hamas and consolidation of power.

But do the articles, published by some of the most prominent international news organizations, cite Abbas’s correct age?

Over the last seven months, a large number of news organizations including the Associated Press and Wall Street Journal have reported that Abbas is 83 years old, while several other news outlets including Reuters and The New York Times have said the PA president is 82.

Meanwhile, multiple other news organizations including the Guardian and The Times of Israel have reported Abbas’s age as 82 in some articles and 83 in others.

The Arabic and Hebrew press do essentially the same, with some citing his age as 82, others as 83 and a third group citing both ages in different articles.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s official website says he was born on November 15, 1935. (Screenshot)

So how old is Abbas?

Many online sources say the PA president was born on March 26, 1935, which, if true, would mean he is 83. However, a number of others say November 15, 1935, was his birth date which would make him 82.

Encyclopedia Britannica does not provide a specific birth date for Abbas, only mentioning that the PA president was born in 1935.

Wikipedia in English currently says Abbas was born on November 15, 1935, but it has only cited that date since March 27, 2018, when one of the site’s users changed it. For the majority of at least the past five years, Wikipedia has said Abbas was born on March 26, 2018.

A spokesman for the Shin Bet security service said that Abbas was born in 1935, but declined to provide a specific date.

An official in Abbas’s office, who asked to remain unnamed, insisted Abbas is 82 and his correct birth date is November 15, 1935.

“I checked the date and I am 100 percent certain,” the official said in a phone call.

Asked if he could provide an official document or identification card that indicates Abbas’s birth date, the official said he could not.

Nonetheless, he said the date he mentioned was backed up by Abbas’s official website, which said he was born on November 15, 1935 in Safed.

Without concrete proof, Abbas’s birth date seems to remain a strange mystery. But the PA president is not the first Palestinian leader whose most basic biographical data are not set in stone.

The birthplace of Yasser Arafat, the former PA president and Palestine Liberation Organization chairman, has long been disputed. Arafat, who died in 2004, insisted that he was born in Jerusalem. But many historians and analysts have contended he was born in Cairo, citing a birth certificate registered to his name in the Egyptian capital and noting his father worked as a merchant there.

Abbas may be turning 83 next Thursday — or perhaps he already is.

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