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Can the Cuban scenario be repeated in Palestine?

December 25, 2014 at 5:58 pm

With the necessary political will, President Barack Obama’s 17 December announcement that “it’s time for a new approach” towards Cuba could be applied to Palestine. There is, indeed, a strong case to argue this point, given that the underlying issues in both cases are very similar.

In Cuba, as with Palestine, it has always been a question of America not being willing to recognise the national right of the people to independence and self-determination. In both instances, crippling blockades have been imposed to induce political change. Yet in a rare show of national humility, Obama announced from the White House, “These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked.”

No one should underestimate the importance of this dramatic admission, for without it there could be no movement towards a meaningful change in relations between Washington and Havana. The US president must now take a bold step and use his executive power to end the embargo imposed on Cuba in October 1960 and codified into law in 1992. The blockade has not only caused enormous human and economic damage to the Cuban people but undermined substantially the ability of the US to become a serious partner for social, political and civil progress across the Americas.

For the past 22 years, the UN General Assembly has voted annually almost unanimously for an end to the US blockade of Cuba. Not surprisingly, only Israel has voted with America at the UN against resolutions calling for an end to the blockade. A similar open-ended collaboration to deny Palestinian self-determination has made the Middle East become what the president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Hass, has called the “chief cauldron of contemporary disorder”.

One week before the announcement about Cuba a survey presented to the Brookings Institution showed that 71 per cent of Americans (84 per cent of Democrats, 60 per cent Republicans) favour a single democratic state in Israel-Palestine with equal status for all of its people. When asked whether the US should lean towards one side in the conflict, 64 per cent of Americans said that they want the US to be entirely neutral, with no bias towards either Israel or the Palestinians.

If President Obama is to live up to the accolade that he is the consummate pragmatist he must ditch the same outdated “failed approach” that has burdened US Middle East policy for almost seven decades. America’s commitment to peace and a just solution in Palestine will continue to ring hollow as long as it finances Israel’s apartheid policies amongst its citizens and ongoing land grab in the occupied Palestinian territories. Washington cannot condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine on the one hand and demand support for Israel’s acquisition of territory by force in Palestine on the other.

If America does make a change, as it should, it will not do so without substantial support. In Europe, for example, political trends suggest that there is widespread weariness with the conflict and its attendant social, economic and security consequences.

Within the UN there is similar overwhelming support for full recognition of Palestinian rights. Israeli intransigence supported by the US veto remains the main stumbling block. In June, 50 international organisations and UN agencies issued a joint statement demanding an immediate end to the blockade of Gaza, which they regard as a violation of international law.

The Cuban experience shows that there are international players with enough influence and the capability to act as honest brokers. The Vatican and Canada may not necessarily be the right candidates for Palestine, but there is no harm in asking around to find suitable parties, not least because the US has long proved itself to be a party to the conflict and not a neutral mediator.

Of course there are notable differences which made the Cuba deal possible and have delayed a similar solution in Palestine. Havana has always insisted on charting a foreign policy independent of Washington, albeit often in consort with its Latin American allies. Neither the Palestine Liberation Organisation nor any of the 22 Arabs states have dared to adopt such a stance.

What was accomplished in Cuba is only the start of the long journey toward a just resolution of the dispute with the US. President Raul Castro was right to assert that progress is always possible when there is a willingness to resolve problems on the basis of equality and mutual respect between the two countries.

As it stands, there is scope to replicate the Cuban scenario in Palestine if certain conditions are met. For a start, the US must take the bold step to act on the basis of international law and the UN Charter, while the Palestinian leadership must remain steadfast and hold true to all of its national principles.

Has the second-term American president got the courage to take such a step? The Middle East and, indeed, the rest of the world, would become more stable, safer and prosperous if he has and does. The failed approach adopted for the past seven decades has to be abandoned once and for all. It’s been done for Cuba; now let it be done for Palestine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.