In February, a jury in an American court found the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) liable for compensation payments to US citizens who suffered damage in terror actions in Israel between 2000 and 2004. The verdict was reached using the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1992, which allows US citizens to seek compensation if damage has been inflicted on them by terrorist actions considered. The decision will have a number of important implications.
One of the implications is that the court found that there were operational links between the PA/PLO and the individuals who carried out the attacks in Israel. The evidence, the court was told, was based on intelligence information as well as, in some cases, the interrogation of suspects. If the interrogations were carried out by the Israel Security Agency (ISA), it suggests that the court considers Israel’s methods of obtaining information and its interrogation techniques to be legitimate and meet US standards.
This is questionable as the ISA uses interrogation techniques on Palestinian detainees which are considered controversial even by some Israeli human rights groups such as the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI). The court should have reviewed each piece of information to make sure it was not extracted through the use of illegal methods. This would have required that the court call the “terrorist suspects” in for questioning to enable the jury to hear their testimonies as the primary source of information–as opposed to the use of secondary sources such as documentation provided by ISA. This did not happen.
Since its establishment in 1994 the PA receives about 10 percent of its budget from the US. Part of this funding is used to train and equip PA security forces. The verdict in the Manhattan court means that a U.S. funded security organisation failed, not once but six times, to use its resources to prevent “terrorist” actions.
The implications arising from these failures can be looked at in two ways. First, it could be that the system used to monitor work supervised by the CIA and USAID is inefficient and fails to close loopholes that allow the use of US tax money against US interests. Secondly, those individuals suspected of carrying out the attacks received benefits from the PA as Palestinian citizens who enjoy civil and economic rights. But if a US citizen who receives welfare benefits from the US government breaks the law, it does not mean he committed his action by the aid from the government.
The verdict ordered the PA/PLO to pay $218.5 million to the victims’ families. By doing so the court can ask the US authorities to seize assets and bank accounts belonging to the PA/PLO to ensure payment. As the PA is an entity dependent on funding from donors of which the US is one, the question is, “Will the US will take this money from amounts it is due to pay to the PA and would the US Congress and administration allow this?”
In the light of the fact that the PA faces an intractable financial crisis, another way the PA might find the amount demanded by the court would be to use non-US donors’ money. Most of the assistance to the PA is restricted in the way it can be used and a significant portion of it is used to pay public employees’ salaries. It is to be expected that other countries, like the US, would refuse to allow their donations to be used for anything other than limited PA local uses.
The US, of course, continues with its double standards by implementing American Service-Members’ Protection Act (ASPA), which shields US personnel from actions in the ICC. It also ensures that its officials and soldiers are exempt from facing courts in foreign countries where they are suspected of committing atrocities and human rights abuses.
The court could also seek assistance from the administration in requesting that other countries seize assets and accounts belonging to the PA/PLO to secure the compensation is paid. By doing so, US would actually be extending its jurisdiction to include other countries. The other countries’ compliance is not expected to be forthcoming without US political pressure.
The court also ignored the fact that Israel, as the occupying power, has full sovereignty over the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, under international law, it bears the responsibility of providing security for all individuals there whether they are its citizens or not. Instead the court ascribed that responsibility to the PA, which only administers parts of the occupied territories. In another court the verdict might well have found the government of Israel guilty of failing to protect those in the territory it controls.
To many people, the case and the verdict are politically motivated and amount to a pro-Israel statement. It ignores the political facts on the ground and the fact that the area is a conflict zone. The verdict is an egregious step towards to an approach which deals with political conflicts through a legal framework.