Lawsuits by American victims could bankrupt Palestinian Authority
ZOA in the news
February 13, 2008

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration is considering a waiver to protect the Palestinian Authority from lawsuits by the victims of Palestinian attacks.

Officials said PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has warned that his government could not pay the more than $500 million in judgements won against the PA by the families of victims of Palestinian attacks. They said Fayyad has urged the administration to impose a presidential waiver that would protect the PA from blocking bank accounts in the United States.

Officials said the lawsuits by American victims could bankrupt the PA.

They cited the freezing of $200,000 in two PLO mission bank accounts in 2005 in wake of a judgement for the children of Yaron Ungar, an American killed in Israel in a 1996 Palestinian attack. “There has been a rethinking in the State Department that I wholeheartedly welcome,” Afif Safieh, PLO mission in Washington, told the Washington Post.

A U.S. court awarded Ungar’s relatives $116 million, which the PA has not paid. U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero asked the administration whether it would issue a statement of interest in the case. Marrero gave the government until the end of February to reply.

“A court has asked the U.S. government to inform it whether it is contemplating filing a statement of interest, but no decision has been made on how the U.S. government will respond,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

In meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Fayyad was said to have reiterated his plea to protect the PA from lawsuits. The Zionist Organization of America has urged the administration to reject the PA request.

“It is wrong for the Bush administration to even consider assisting the PA in fending off lawsuits through which the families of victims of Palestinian terrorism have sought a measure of justice against the murderers of their family members,” ZOA president Morton Klein said. “The fact that it is considering altering its position, formerly upheld by Secretary Rice, that the U.S is not a party to the cases and that the relevant court orders are enforceable, was never announced and appears to have emerged solely because PA officials disclosed it.”

In January 2007, Ms. Rice wrote PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that the Ungar case had been brought to the Supreme Court, which refused to review it. She said the judgement against the PA would be enforced in U.S. courts and urged Abbas to offer a settlement.

“The United States is not party to these enforcement proceedings,” Ms. Rice wrote.

On Wednesday, families of victims of Palestinian attacks were scheduled to meet State Department and Justice Department officials. The families warned that any intervention by the administration would undermine the U.S.-led war against Al Qaida and its allies.

“If the State Department tips the scales of justice against the victims in order to support adjudicated terrorists, the war on terrorism will be seen throughout the world as a farce,” David Strachman, an attorney who brought many of the lawsuits, said.

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