Earlier this year, a Manhattan court held the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organization liable for a series incidents that took place in Jerusalem and present-day Israel between 2000 and 2004, causing the deaths of 33 people.
As a result of the ruling, the two organizations have been fined $218.5 million, a sum that is automatically tripled under the US Anti-Terrorism Act. Both organizations have appealed against the ruling.
Although the federal government has been silent throughout the 11-year trial, the US Department of Justice submitted a letter to the court on 27 July.
The letter indicated that the department may submit a request relating to whether or not the PA should post a bond — likely to be several million dollars — during the appeals process. The PA and PLO have sought that the bond requirement be waived.
It would be unprecedented for the US government to intervene in a civil case against Palestinian organizations. The lawsuit against the PA and PLO was initiated in 2004 by a number of families whose loved ones had been killed or injured by Palestinian armed groups.
The Department of Justice’s letter was submitted a day before a New York court would review a request to waive the bond and a number of other issues relating to the case. George Daniels, the presiding judge, agreed to postpone his decision regarding the bond until the US government decides whether or not to intervene.
The families behind the lawsuit are being represented by the lawyer Robert Tolchin. He has acted on behalf of Shurat HaDin, a group involved in litigation against Israel’s perceived enemies, in a number of cases.
Despite America’s unswerving support for Israel, there is a logic behind why the US government would wish to help the PA avoid a massive fine.
Moreover, the US has given training to PA security forces whose activities have been closely coordinated with Israel.
The PA is almost completely dependent on outside aid for its survival. It is constantly facing financial difficulties, particularly because Israel has repeatedly refused to hand over tax and customs revenue which the PA is owed. Israel is required to collect and transfer such money under the Oslo accords.
Washington officials have suggested that it would be harmful to the US if the PA was forced to pay up. In a joint statement, the justice and state departments have stressed that “any possible filing” in the case would be “a statement of interests of the United States and not on behalf of the PA or any other party.”
Governments around the world are normally shielded from civil lawsuits in the US under sovereign immunity legislation. Yet because the US does not recognize a Palestinian state, the PA remains vulnerable. The US government is nonetheless able to intervene in litigation relating to foreign affairs.