By George Hale
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) — In early March, President Mahmoud Abbas approached Cuban leader Raul Castro with an unusual request.
According to the veteran Israeli negotiator who set up the call, Abbas wanted Castro to free Alan Gross, a Jewish American contractor jailed by Havana since late 2009.
The intermediary, peace activist Gershon Baskin, says Gross “is being held hostage.” The view is shared by much of the US Jewish community as well as the State Department, which has no direct ties with Cuba. Palestine, however, has an excellent relationship with the island nation, so Baskin contacted Abbas.
“I asked the Palestinians, and he did that,” Baskin said in an interview. “It was a very good, humanitarian gesture on the part of Abu Mazen,” he said, although the talks failed to secure Gross’ release.
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.
Read the rest of the story (including the emails) here: http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=503989