The Justice Department is "carefully considering" whether to intervene in a federal civil suit in New York which generated a $218 million judgment against the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for supporting and enabling terrorist attacks during the second Intifada.
Under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, that award can triple to $655 million.
The lawsuit, Sokolow v. PLO, was brought by 10 American families whose loved ones were killed or who suffered injuries themselves in those attacks between 2001 and 2004. The evidence included internal PA and PLO records detailing a program to pay surviving relatives of Palestinians who died in suicide terror attacks or who were in Israeli jails after being convicted of terrorist acts. While the PA says it no longer provides support for terror attacks, payments to the families of dead terrorists and to prisoners in Israeli jails continues.
Some documents even contained handwritten notes from longtime PLO and PA leader Yasser Arafat approving payments to the terrorists and their families. One 2002 report sent to the PA's General Intelligence Service chief praised a West Bank squad for its "high quality successful attacks."
Government intervention to block terror victims from collecting on their judgments against foreign sponsors is not new. In one of the earliest cases of its kind, the departments of State, Justice and Treasury all tried to block Stephen Flatow from collecting a $247 million judgment against Iran for sponsoring a Palestinian Islamic Jihad suicide bombing that killed his daughter Alisa.
"It's disappointing that our government is now considering opposing the victims of the PLO's terror operations," Flatow said Tuesday in an email to the IPT. "Even if the decision is made not to intervene, the government's actions weaken victims' rights."
The PA filed a motion in May to suspend attempts to collect on that judgment pending an appeal of the jury award. In it, attorneys suggested that Judge Daniels seek the government's opinion about the potential impact on the PA if collections began. "The United States has significant foreign policy interests in ensuring regional stability," the PA motion said.
It also claimed that the PA is "a government in deep economic distress" and any immediate enforcement threatens the PA's viability, something which "will jeopardize regional security and stability."
That, attorneys for the victims say, simply is not true.
"The PA now has enough free cash flow to pay $60 million a year to prisoners who committed crimes that defendants euphemistically call 'the struggle against the occupation' (i.e., terrorists) and another $4.5 million a year to released criminals—people who perform absolutely no services whatsoever for the PA," a response to the PA's request for a stay said. "In addition—and not included in the amounts above—the PA continues to pay the salaries of all employees convicted of murder and attempted murder (as well as other terror-related crimes such as membership in a terrorist organization) if they were employees of the PA when they committed these crimes—people who should have been fired for cause but instead are rewarded for their crimes while they sit in jail doing nothing." [Emphasis original]
Instead, attorneys for the victims suggest, the PA should be ordered to put $30 million per month into an escrow-like account through the court. This does no harm to the PA should it prevail on appeal, but also protects the interests of the victims without causing any financial calamity.
In similar terrorism cases, the memorandum said, the PA was caught "transferring assets out of the U.S. and refusing to honor the [plaintiffs'] judgment," prompting a court injunction to keep the assets in place. The PA has a "long history of evading U.S. judgment creditors for years," further justifying the need for the installment payments now.
In addition, the memo said, "the PA has concealed from the Court that it is the owner of the 'Palestine Investment Fund,' which, as of the end of 2012, had a portfolio valued at $782.8 million."
Courts have ordered similar installment payments in two previous cases against the PA, the plaintiffs' response said.
The PA is crying "wolf" in casting a dire financial outlook. The earlier cases, like this one, featured "fulsome briefs supported by self-serving, attorney-crafted declarations from their top ministers claiming that they were on the brink of financial collapse and unable to provide security or payment to the plaintiffs," the memo said.
Since then, the Authority's finances have grown stronger, with an increase in tax collections from about $900 million in 2007 to $2.1 billion last year.
Meanwhile, the Sokolow attorneys say, the court doesn't need any input from the DOJ, State Department or any other executive branch agency. "Congress and the President have already decided—through the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Act—that combating terrorism and compensating its victims with potentially large awards against those who support international terrorism is in the interest of the United States," the memo said.
Government intervention would be tantamount to the United States taking sides in favor of terrorists, attorney Kent Yalowitz told Fox News.
Plaintiff Alan Bauer, along with his wife and four children, were injured in a March 2001 bombing on Jerusalem's King George Street by a PA police officer that killed three people and wounded 80 others.
"The U.S. government and the DOJ should be ashamed that they are even considering telling an American court that the PLO and the PA can afford to pay convicted terrorists, but cannot afford to pay the victims of those very same terrorists," Bauer told Fox News.