A federal court of appeals threw out a verdict by a New York jury that found the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization liable for seven attacks that took place in present-day Israel and Jerusalem between 2000 and 2004.
The attacks had claimed the lives of 33 people and injured many more.
In February 2015, a jury awarded plaintiffs, 11 American families whose relatives were victims of the attacks, $218.5 million of the original $1 bilion dollars sought in damages.
Damages in cases filed under the Anti-Terrorism Act are automatically tripled, making the total the PA would have been required to pay $655.5 million.
But the federal appeals court in New York found on Wednesday that the US federal district court in Manhattan lacked the jurisdiction to try the civil case.
The case had been initiated by the lawfare group Shurat HaDin in 2004.
The Israeli group, which has ties to the Mossad spy agency and operates under the motto “bankrupting terror,” has used the Anti-Terrorism Act to file a number of civil lawsuits against Palestinian institutions or groups working with Palestinians.
The Anti-Terrorism Act allows victims of international terrorism to sue individuals, organizations and institutions in US courts if a sufficient connection to the US can be established.
Writing for a panel of three justices, Judge John G. Koeltl found that the attacks had been random and not “expressly aimed at the United States.”
This is the second blow to lawfare efforts by Israel advocates in less than a year. In December 2015, a US court ruled that thousands of non-US citizens could not sue the Arab Bank for alleged attacks in and around Israel.
In the case against the Palestinian authorities, plaintiffs had argued that the PA and the PLO had enabled and incentivized the execution of attacks and provided material support for their execution. Palestinian defendants maintained the perpetrators had acted independently.
Media reports described a “politically charged” trial that lasted seven weeks, during which jurors heard emotional testimonies from family members of those killed.
Following the verdict, the trial judge had placed a $10 million bond on the PA, significantly less than typically required.
In an unusual move, the Obama administration had asked Judge George Daniels to set a lower bond, warning that an excessive financial burden could lead to the collapse of the US-backed PA, on which Israel also depends to help enforce the occupation and protect its settlers in the West Bank.
Writing on behalf of the US, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that the US has provided billions of dollars to Palestinian institutions.
“The PA and Israel currently have mechanisms and channels for security coordination, helping to maintain security for Palestinians and Israelis living in the West Bank, and identifying and thwarting potential terrorist attacks in Israel,” Blinken wrote. “The collapse of the PA would break this channel of coordination.”
Because the United States does not recognize Palestine as a state, the PA and the PLO were not eligible for sovereign immunity, a protection Israeli officials have enjoyed to avoid accountability in the US and other venues for war crimes against Palestinians.