An email from Gershon Baskin to Mahmoud Habash. (Image: Ma’an News)
This is a strange story. Ma’an is reporting on an odd gambit Mahmoud Abbas took in an attempt to release $147 million in US aid for the Palestinians. In a move brokered by Israeli activist Gershon Baskin, Abbas asked Raul Castro to release jailed American contractor Alan Gross – all to impress Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen enough to convince her to drop her hold on the Palestinians aid. Got that?
What does an American jailed in Cuba have to do with the Palestinians? Emails stolen in May from a Palestinian Authority cabinet minister may provide a clue.
Posted online, the messages depict Palestinian officials desperate to convince a powerful Cuban-American lawmaker to lift a hold on $147 million allocated for civilian aid to the Palestinians.
The congresswoman, Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is one of the Castro regime’s fiercest critics in Washington. Gross is from Maryland but his plight is a priority for many of the lawmaker’s south Florida constituents.
Three weeks after Abbas contacted Castro, Ros-Lehtinen relented on half the funds — about $89 million — that she had withheld for seven months in protest of Palestinian efforts to seek membership in the UN. On March 23, the lawmaker sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explaining that she would “no longer object” to distributing the aid for water programs, healthcare and food.
The letter made no mention of the Palestinian overtures to Castro, but a person involved in the campaign to free Gross said the congresswoman had agreed to consider releasing the money if Abbas succeeded. She was first approached with the proposal by one of Gross’ attorneys.
Baskin confirmed this account but said Ros-Lehtinen was also under pressure from the State Department and even AIPAC, an influential pro-Israel lobby group. And she was not the only one blocking Palestinian money; Republican Kay Granger of Texas had a similar hold in place.
Still, the Palestinians understood their intervention as necessary to appease Ros-Lehtinen, not Granger. Baskin said he initiated the talks as a goodwill gesture to Ros-Lehtinen
Ma’an’s story includes emails leaked (or stolen) from the office of Palestinian Authority’s religious affairs minister Mahmoud Habash.
Gross’s case has been a focus in the Jewish community and many have already intervened in his case including President Obama, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Rep. Chris Van Hollen in addition to Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
Does this story reveal the underbelly of international politics or demonstrate what the Palestinians are reduced to as they survive on the whim of international aid? Probably both. Imagine any other international leader in this position – here was an internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people being forced to carry water for American Jewish community in the small hope it could convince a single pro-Israel congressperson to release US funds to pay for water, healthcare and food. The mind boggles. I wonder if some of the Israel’s friends in Washington, who just this past week were attacking the Abbas “kleptocracy” in congressional testimony (pdf), realize that Abbas is probably the best (or most pliant) Palestinian friend they’re going to have.