[Marxism] Gideon Lichfield: "Cuba on the West Bank" (NYT op-ed)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Wed Mar 22 23:11:03 MST 2006

For nearly half a century, the Cuban people have supported their
revolution and its leader, Fidel Castro, because, in essence, he
has provided basic material needs for everyone, and because he
represents, in crystalline form, the struggle for both national
independence and opposition to U.S. re-occupation of the rest of
the island. Hamas, in the eyes of those who voted for it, means
an end to occupation and the provision of basic social services
to an occupied population who also seeks national independence.
This writer fears that in Hamas, the Palestinians may now have
a leadership which will fight as hard for the Palestinians as
Fidel fights for the Cubans. He's wrong, however, to attribute
Cuba's survival to tourism and the joint ventures. They're but
twelve years old and the Revolution is approaching age 50. 

Cuba's success in holding out is predicated on a politically
astute leadership which has united the Cuban people in their
own national self-interest, and which has decisive control of
the levers of governmental power, achieved when a socialist
revolution broke the back of capitalism in 1960. It's true in
the last ten years tourism and joint ventures have provided 
the main economic underpinnings of Cuba's stability. But the
island's international standing, through both the medical aid
programs, and through it's participation in armed battles like
that against the South African apartheid system have given it
a standing in the eyes of people everywhere which no other
country on the planet possesses. 

The Palestinians have been blockaded since 1948, when they were
driven from their homeland. They are also sick and tired of the
occupation of their land by Israel and its collaborators. Read
a more nuanced explanation of why the Palestinians voted for the
Hamas slate in an essay posted to Portside today by Jeff Halper,
an Israeli activist who works in solidarity with Palestinians:

March 23, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor
Cuba on the West Bank



FOR two months, the world has dithered over how to get a Palestinian
authority run by Hamas to recognize Israel and renounce violence, and
over how much aid and official contact to maintain until it does. The
diplomats' refrain was that once Hamas appointed a cabinet, things
would be clearer.

Last weekend, Hamas did name a cabinet. But knowing who has which job
has not made things clearer, nor will the Israeli election on March
28. The dispute runs too deep.

American and European bans on aiding or communicating with terrorist
organizations, if followed strictly, can stop a lot of money from
reaching the Palestinians. But there are creative ways around such
restrictions. You can relabel some budget support and development
assistance "essential humanitarian aid," send it through third
parties like the United Nations or World Bank, or pay it directly to
contractors and service providers.

In conversations with officials from various countries, two
positions, crudely speaking, emerge. The first, predictably more
common among American and Israeli policy makers, says that outside
powers should strangle Hamas so that it either moderates or dies. The
other, which finds more favor with Europeans, says to keep as much
aid flowing as possible, perhaps with incentives for good behavior
and sanctions for bad.

Sound familiar? It should. The same debate has been raging for
decades about another small, impoverished and controversial place:
Cuba. The United States doggedly insists that Fidel Castro's
repressive regime must be boycotted to make it collapse. Europeans
and Canadians prefer encouraging gradual change through "constructive

The result is that an unrepentant Mr. Castro is enjoying his 48th
year in power, using the American boycott as a political prop and the
rest of the world as an economic prop. Talk to Cubans and two things
soon become clear: the main reason any of them support Mr. Castro is
for his heroic stand against the Yanqui bully, and the main reason
Cubans don't starve is that tourists and foreign joint-venture
businesses pump money into the economy.

Something similar could happen with Hamas. A poll out this week found
that 75 percent of Palestinians want Hamas to "engage Israel in peace
negotiations." But even the most moderate will rally to defend their
democratically elected government if they see countries that profess
to love democracy trying to destabilize it. That will reduce domestic
pressure on Hamas to pursue peace. And if aid from elsewhere
meanwhile props up the Palestinian Authority, Hamas can carry on this
way indefinitely, playing countries off against one another.

Is either approach to Hamas the right one? The first looks like a
very long shot. Even if all the financial taps were closed, Hamas's
popular support might drain away only slowly, and probably toward
even more radical extremists, turning Palestinian areas into
something more like Iraq. And because Hamas can call on the Muslim
world for help, closing all the taps is well-nigh impossible. 
Any boycott will therefore probably lead to a Cuba-like situation.

An argument for keeping the aid going is that only a stable and
strong authority can impose order on the fractious Palestinian clans
and militant groups, and such order is essential to fulfilling the
Palestinian side of any peace deal. Hamas has given more hints of its
willingness to moderate its positions in the past month than Mr.
Castro usually gives in a decade. Last week, Ismail Haniya, the
authority's prime minister-designate, said that Hamas could hold
talks on a Palestinian state confined to the pre-1967 borders if
Israel first committed to those borders.

That, however, is not enough of a guarantee for Israel. If Hamas in
fact harbors long-term plans to destroy the Jewish state, as some
fear, then such statements are ploys to give it time to build up its
strength. In that case, unrestricted foreign aid will make it more

There is only way to find out whether and how Hamas can change.
Outside powers should design a policy that combines carrots and
sticks, offering both Hamas and Israel incentives to move gradually
in the right direction, but preserving some safeguards in case they
fail to do so.

That is easy to say and extremely hard to do. But the main point is
that whatever the world does about Hamas, it needs to do it in unison
- or face indefinite deadlock, as with Cuba.

Gideon Lichfield is the Jerusalem correspondent for The Economist.

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