Bush Administration Supports Compensation for Victims of Terror Despite Expressing Concern Terror Lawsuits Could Bankrupt PA
March 5, 2008

The Bush Administration has told a federal judge presiding over a lawsuit who awarded damages of $174 million Leslie Knox, a 46-year-old mother of six children and widow of Aharon Ellis, a U.S. citizen who was killed in 2002 while singing at a bar mitzvah in Hadera, Israel, that is it is concerned that lawsuits by victims of terrorism could harm the “financial and political viability” of Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority (PA), but did not oppose or seek nullification of the judgment against the PA. The Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler reported that instead, “In its filing to the court yesterday, the administration said it supports compensation for victims of terrorism, but urged a settlement of the lawsuits to the ‘mutual benefit’ of all parties.” The Administration’s position followed urging by legislators and the families of victims with State and Justice department officials two weeks ago. Kessler writes, “The decision in effect allows the State Department to sidestep a politically vexing issue concerning victims of terrorism, while retaining the option of intervening later if it appears that the cases could imperil the government headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, officials said” (Glenn Kessler, ‘Administration Won’t Take Sides in Terrorism Case Against Palestinians,’ Washington Post, March 1, 2008).


Testimony in Israeli courts has connected senior PA leaders, including the late Yasser Arafat, with specific terrorist attacks that are now the subject of lawsuits. Judgments have been rendered in case brought by the children of Yaron Ungar, a U.S. citizen killed in Israel in a 1996 terrorist attack. Ungar’s relatives were awarded $116 million, which the PA has not paid. Similarly, Leslye Knox won a judgment of $174 million against the PA, but nothing has been paid while Knox has struggled to support her family. News that the State Department was considering assisting the PA fight the lawsuits led Knox to comment, “It’s hard to see why the government listens to them. It makes me feel like, ‘Who is on my side?'” (Glenn Kessler, ‘Palestinians Ask U.S. To Intervene in Suits Over Terrorist Attacks,’ Washington Post, February 12, 2008).


The PA originally argued that it has sovereign immunity and is thus beyond the reach of the U.S. legal system, but U.S. courts have rejected that claim since the PA is not a sovereign state. Both the PA’s Abbas and prime minister Salaam Fayyad have previously urged the Bush Administration to intervene in the lawsuits, which it refused to do until, last December, the U.S. federal judge presiding over such a case asked the U.S. government whether it would get involved. PA officials have claimed that it makes no sense for the U.S. to be providing millions of dollars in aid to the PA while U.S. courts are threatening to bankrupt it.


ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “We are pleased that the Bush Administration has not opposed nullifying the legal judgment that the PA owes compensation to the victims of Palestinian terrorism. This is undoubtedly the morally upright decision and one which we have urged the Bush Administration to take. We applaud the Administration for doing so.


“Nonetheless, we remain concerned that the Administration was even considering 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, since this has sent a very damaging message regarding the credibility of the U.S. in its fight against Islamist terror worldwide. Worse, the latest report indicates that this is but an interim decision by the Bush Administration, which could overturned in favor of intervening to help the PA, presumably if further damages are awarded against it by courts.


“The very fact that PA officials have the temerity to seek such assistance and argue that American failure to help them is inconsistent with U.S funding for the PA shows that they have concluded that they can get away with brazen sponsorship of terrorism through Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. It also shows how misguided and wrong has been the Bush Administration policy of continuing and increasing funding for the PA in the first place, something ZOA has long opposed.


“It is bad enough that the Bush Administration should have even considered aiding the PA, despite the complete absence of any effort on Abbas’part to implement Palestinian requirements under the signed Oslo agreements and the 2003 Roadmap peace plan to jail terrorists and end the incitement to hatred and murder within the PA-controlled, media, mosques, schools and youth camps that feed terror. We strongly urge and hope that the Bush Administration to continue to adhere to its decision not to intervene in the legal process on the PA’s behalf and to place no obstacle in the path of justice so that American citizens bereaved by Palestinian terrorists can claim the compensation they so obviously deserve.”


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