Jury finds Palestinian Authority, PLO liable for terror attacks

Remember the intifadas that roiled Israel and the West Bank after the collapse of the peace talks near the end of the Clinton administration? A long-delayed lawsuit on behalf of American victims of terror attacks has found the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) jointly liable for those actions, awarding over $200 million in damages. Under US law, that may be trebled:

The suit against the PLO and Palestinian Authority and the other against the Jordan-based Arab Bank had languished for years as the defendants challenged the American courts’ jurisdiction. Recent rulings found that they should go forward under the Anti-Terrorism Act, a more than 2-decade-old law that allows victims of U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations to seek compensation for pain and suffering, loss of earnings and other hardship. …

The plaintiffs also relied on internal records showing the Palestinian Authority continued to pay the salaries of employees who were put behind bars in terror cases and paid benefits to families of suicide bombers and gunmen who died committing the attacks.

“Where are the documents punishing employees for killing people?” Yalowitz asked. “We don’t have anything like that in this case. … They didn’t roll that way.”

The attorney for the plaintiffs put the onus for the attacks on the man in charge of both organizations:

He also put up a photo of Yasser Arafat on a video screen, telling the jury that the Palestinian leader had approved martyrdom payments and incited the violence with anti-Israeli propaganda.

“The big dog was Yasser Arafat,” he said. “Yasser Arafat was in charge.”

The defense attorney tried to argue that payments after the fact didn’t indicate approval or involvement before the fact. The jury’s reaction to that was apparently … come on, man. The martyrdom payments not only indicated approval, but also acted as an incentive for more mayhem. It’s not for nothing that the phrases follow the money and cui bono are usually considered good rules of thumb for those investigating criminal conspiracies, and in this case the PA and PLO made it really easy for jurors to reach this conclusion.

This isn’t the only American lawsuit stemming from the intifadas in progress. A Brooklyn jury decided last year that Jordan-based Arab Bank also was civilly liable for damages resulting from Hamas attacks, but the award has not yet been set. Arab Bank has hotly denied responsibility for the financial operations of Hamas operatives involved in the attacks, claiming that it was the duty of governments to intervene rather than the bank itself:

“That’s what the governments do,” he said. “The governments figure out who is supposed to be on the list. You wouldn’t want it any other way. You wouldn’t want to have Googleor Facebook or Walmart or Target or Citibank or Bank of America or TD Bank or Arab Bank deciding who belongs on a terrorist list.”

There is some validity to that argument, and an appellate court might agree down the road. Unfortunately for the PA and the PLO, that’s a moot point. They are the government, and what’s more, a beneficiary of American foreign aid. If the jury’s decision prevails, the court might be able to siphon off the aid to pay the judgment, although the federal government will probably argue that such an action would encroach on the executive branch’s prerogatives on foreign policy.

The lawsuit comes at an interesting time in US-Israeli relations. An upcoming visit by Benjamin Netanyahu supposedly has the relationship on the rocks, but that doesn’t extend to the American populace. A new survey from Gallup shows support for Israel remarkably steady, even after the Gaza war last year and the Netanyahu-Obama contretemps of the moment:

Even as relations between the leaders of Israel and the United States reportedly deteriorate over disagreement about how to handle Iran’s nuclear program, Israel has retained its broadly favorable image in the U.S. over the past year. Seventy percent of Americans now view that country favorably, and 62% say they sympathize more with the Israelis than the Palestinians in the Mideast conflict. By contrast, 17% currently view the Palestinian Authority favorably, and 16% sympathize more with the Palestinians.

These attitudes, from Gallup’s Feb. 8-11 World Affairs survey, are unchanged from a year ago, suggesting that neither the evident friction between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, nor the 50-day conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip last year, greatly affected how each is perceived in the U.S.

In fact, Israel’s public image in the U.S. has been fairly strong since 2005, with an average 68% of Americans viewing it favorably. But from 2000 to 2004, when hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians were running high, its favorable score averaged 60%. Prior to that, Israel’s favorable rating was even more volatile, reflecting other Mideast events, including the 1991 Gulf War, when positive views of Israel soared after that country suffered Iraqi rocket attacks.

There are some partisan differences in the survey. Majorities of Republicans and independents favor Israel, while support among Democrats has dropped to a plurality (48%) after a couple of years of majority support, a drop of 10 points over the past year. In the larger view, the levels of support have been more or less steady in all three groups since 2002-3, with the obvious correlation to 9/11 being an inflection point. Americans got a lot more sympathetic to the pressures on Israel from radical Islamists and other terrorist groups, and the intifadas didn’t improve the perception of the Palestinians either. This jury award will remind many Americans that the PA and the PLO (now Fatah) supported attacks that wounded Americans.

Finally, as Americans consider the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, our friend Dennis Prager has a new video out by Alan Dershowitz reviewing the history of Israel’s founding as a modern nation. It’s also a reminder of what led to the occupation of West Bank and Gaza.