A federal appeals court tossed out a $655 million civil terrorism judgment against the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Wednesday, ruling that U.S. courts lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.
The lawsuit, Sokolow v. PLO, was brought by American victims and survivors of six terrorist attacks in Israel between 2001 and 2004 during the Al Aqsa Intifada. Evidence showed that the PA and PLO, then ruled by Yasser Arafat, supported cells that orchestrated the machine gun and bombing attacks and continued to pay the terrorists responsible as they served time in Israeli prisons.
The U.S. Antiterrorism Act allows American victims of foreign terrorist attacks to sue for damages. But, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, that law does not apply to the PA, which is not a sovereign state. There is no evidence that the terrorist attacks specifically targeted Americans, the court ruled. And, the PA's U.S.-based operations are insufficient to consider "at home" in America and create proper jurisdiction.
The PA has diplomatic missions in New York and Washington, and has lobbyists working on its behalf, the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge John G. Koeltl, sitting by designation, said. That's not enough, in part because there is no evidence showing the attacks "resulted from their actions that did occur in the United States."
Similar successful lawsuits targeted Iran, Syria and other states for providing material support and guidance to the responsible terrorists. Those cases, however, involved countries designated by the U.S. as state sponsors of terrorism. An amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act specifically allows litigation against those states by American victims of terrorist attacks.
In Sokolow, the 2nd Circuit ruled, the Palestinian Authority is not even a state, and lacks a sufficient operating base in the United States to meet the legal threshold for jurisdiction.
"The overwhelming evidence shows that the defendants are 'at home' in Palestine, where they govern. Palestine is the central seat of government for the PA and PLO. The PA's authority is limited to the West Bank and Gaza, and it has no independently operated offices anywhere else. All PA governmental ministries, the Palestinian president, the Parliament, and the Palestinian security services reside in Palestine," the ruling said.
The ruling relied heavily on a recent Supreme Court decision unrelated to terrorism, but focused on U.S. courts' jurisdiction over foreign entities. It did not address the evidence showing the PLO and PA's knowledge and involvement in the deadly terror attacks.
Those attacks were "unquestionably horrific," the ruling concluded. "But the federal courts cannot exercise jurisdiction in a civil case beyond the limits prescribed by the due process clause of the Constitution, no matter how horrendous the underlying attacks or morally compelling the plaintiffs' claims."