A deputy secretary of State has asked a federal judge to consider a host of potential calamities which might result from enforcing a civil terrorism against the Palestinian Authority (PA) for the deaths and injuries of American citizens.
The Authority is appealing a February jury verdict, awarding $218.5 million in damages to 10 families who lost relatives or suffered injuries themselves in terrorist attacks involving PA officials and support between 2001 and 2004. Under the Antiterrorism Act, those damages triple to $655 million.
Normally, defendants would have to take out a bond worth more than those damages while they appealed the judgment. But the PA asked the court to waive that requirement, pleading dire financial circumstances. In response, the plaintiffs recommended "an equitable middle road" requiring $30 million in monthly installments into a kind of escrow account through the court.
In a declaration filed late Monday, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not directly endorse that figure, or the PA's position that no bond should be required. Rather, Blinken asserts that U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels should "carefully consider the impact of its decision on the continued viability of the PA in light of the evidence about its financial situation ... the collapse of the PA would undermine several decades of U.S. foreign policy and add a new destabilizing factor to the region, compromising national security.'
The bond requirement would undermine U.S. investments aimed at facilitating a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Blinken wrote, and the breakdown in the Palestinian economy and security apparatus would open the door to more radical elements and terrorist recruitment.
Attorneys for the families in Sokolow v. PLO argue that the PA is "crying wolf" about its finances and that their suggested installment plan avoids any collapse. During the trial, jurors saw internal PA and Palestine Liberation Organization records describing a payment plan to support families of those who died carrying out attacks on Israeli civilians and to support those imprisoned by Israel for terrorist activity.
Other records included handwritten notes from longtime PLO and PA leader Yasser Arafat approving those payments.
Those payments continue today, the Shurat HaDin, or Israel Law Center, noted Tuesday.
In Monday's government filing, Blinken said the administration supports the Antiterrorism Act and the efforts of victims to seek justice via civil litigation. Such lawsuits "can also advance U.S. national security interests. A civil judgments against "those who commit or sponsor acts of terrorism is an important means of deterring and defeating terrorist activity" and cuts funds that could support other terrorism.
He offered no specific suggestion about how to balance that quest for justice against the concerns over the PA's potential collapse if the damages are upheld.
The question of whether to intervene created "tremendous friction" between the Justice and State departments, the New York Times reported Tuesday. DOJ did not want to get involved in creating an obstacle for terror victims trying to collect judgments, the report said, citing "federal officials involved in the discussions." But State insisted, arguing "the United States has seen a viable Palestinian Authority as essential to maintaining stability in the region."