Hoping to unfreeze US aid dollars, Abbas asked Cuba to free accused American spy

PA leader Mahmoud Abbas meeting US President Barack Obama in 2009.

Wikimedia Commons

Ma’an News Agency’s George Hale landed a corker of a scoop on Friday. Internal Palestinian Authority emails show that the PA’s expired president Mahmoud Abbas in March asked Cuban President Raul Castro to release Alan Gross, a USAID contractor accused of spying and convicted of subversion.

The emails were leaked by In Light Press, a website critical of Abbas, but supportive of disgraced warlord Muhammad Dahlan. Dahlan was at the center of an American campaign of violent subversion of the elected PA government in 2006, but his forces were ultimately defeated by Hamas and evicted from Gaza in 2007.

Not the most reliable of sources then, you might think. And you’d be right, except in this case the website seems to have been correct. Hale verified the emails by interviewing the Israeli negotiator who sent some of the emails and received the rest. Hale explains:

Palestine, however, has an excellent relationship with the island nation, so [Israeli negotiator Gershon] 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 [Abbas],” 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.

USAID contractor was convicted of subversion in Cuba

All credit to George for a great story, but I’d say he’s been a little too uncritical of American government claims about Gross. The US and Gross’s supporters claim he was just an innocent contractor who had been trying to help the Cuban Jewish community set up better internet access. But the reality seems pretty far from that. According to the Jewish Daily Forward:

official trip reports he [Gross] filed for an American government agency, revealed by The Associated Press on February 12, paint a picture of a man who knew the risks he was taking. “Detection of satellite signals will be catastrophic,” Gross warned in a report that filtered back to the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to AP.

When he was arrested, Gross, a resident of suburban Washington, was carrying a high-tech cell phone chip more commonly used by the CIA or the Defense Department…

The cell phone chip found on Gross when he was arrested would have allowed a user to make satellite phone calls without being detected.

Abbas aimed to free American linked to “regime change in Cuba”

Appearing on Democracy Now in June, journalist and academic Saul Landau threw even more suspicion on Gross (Landau’s latest book is called Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up and is about US support for violent anti-Castro militants):

Alan Gross, who was working as a contractor for a company that was contracted with [US]AID, the State Department. And their job, essentially, was to promote regime change in Cuba. And it says so in the legislation, and they got the money to do this. Alan’s job was to set up dissidents with super-sophisticated satellite communication systems that would work through satellite phones and laptops that were untrackable and impenetrable. And I really don’t think that he was trying to keep the Cubans from learning our secret matzo ball recipe. The excuse is, he’s innocent; all he was trying to do was help the Jewish community get better internet access. This is total nonsense… Even his wife says now he was guilty.

On his arrest, the Cuban government initially accused Gross of being a spy. In March last year he was sentenced to 15 years for crimes against state security.

It’s pretty pathetic that, at the height of the Palestinian prisoners’ hunger strike in February and March, even while spouting supportive rhetoric, Abbas was actually spending his time trying (and failing) to get an accused American spy freed in exchange for US aid dollars.

More proof — if it were needed — that Abbas is more concerned about preserving his own mini-kingdom than the struggles of the Palestinian people.




Incredible! But this traitor does not surprise me.


Revolted should be, more then anyone else, the Palestinians who are disgraced by these kind of leaders. Of course, they aren't in office by election and the honorable palestinian people decieve better. When will the winds of Tahrir-Place bring "arab spring" to Ramallah? Better to Tel Aviv and Ramallah, in the same blow... It would make the world be a better one.

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and co-host of our podcast.

He is author of the bestselling book Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2023).