The US State Department and Justice Department are wrestling with an issue concerned with a verdict handed down by a Federal Court in New York. It involves a civil suit, brought by American families who suffered injuries and death due to Palestinian terror attacks in Israel. The jury decided in favor of family charges that the Palestine Authority and PLO personnel were responsible for the attacks, and awarded the families $218.5 million. Due to provisions of US antiterrorism law, the verdict was automatically tripled, to $655.5 million.
The issue for State and Justice Department comes in court procedures that the side losing a lower court case, and wanting to appeal, must post a bond that might equal 111 percent of the judgment.
State Department officials have weighed in on the side of the Palestinians that the bond provision be waived or modified, on the ground that the outlay would endanger the solvency of the Palestine Authority, and put in danger the administration's preference for a two-state solution.
Justice Department officials expressed a concern for the families of those who suffered from terror attacks, and the anti-terrorist posture of the US Government.
Officials of both departments are bending and weaving between competing concerns, trying to stand firm against terror and in behalf of the Palestine Authority.
According to The New York Times,
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Justice Department said that while it supports the rights of terrorism victims to receive compensation, it signed on to the US Government letter to the court asking the judge to "carefully consider" the bond he would demand of the Palestinians."The State Department . . . argued that the Palestinian Authority, which has faced financial problems for years, could not afford to pay the bond without jeopardizing vital government services. And as a diplomatic matter, the United States has seen a viable Palestinian Authority as essential to maintaining stability in the region. . . . (According to a State Department official, the bond would deprive) the Palestinian Authority of 'a significant portion of its revenues (and) would likely severely compromise the P.A.’s ability to operate as a governmental authority, . . . A P.A. insolvency and collapse would harm current and future U.S.-led efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,''
Palestinian finances are notoriously unreliable as well as unaudited. For what they are worth, recent reports may allow some to judge the impact of the court's requirements on the Palestine Authority's solvency. "Solvency" is a problematic and largely fictitious concept in this context, insofar as the Authority relies heavily on promises of financial aid from numerous donors, that are often much more generous than the actual transfer of funds. Moreover, we hear time and again about the porous nature of the Palestinian treasury, with the disappearance of funds to who knows what, or to who.
The 2013 Palestine budget is said to include revenues of $2.88 billion, of which some $1.2 billion was from donor countries. Expenditures were $3.538 billion. The shortfall was proposed to be covered by loans from Palestinian pension funds (themselves of doubtful solvency) and from additional donations, a substantial part of which are "irregular and heavily influenced by politics."
Something like $1.88 billion (53 percent of the budget) is paid in salaries, which includes payments to some 4,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons for security offenses. Each prisoner receives the equivalent of between $600 and $1200 per month. Making some guesses appropriate to the nature of Palestinian financial reports, that comes to something like $48.6 million per year. Palestinian sources say that it is the third largest item in their budget, but note that in times of financial constraint the prisoners have to make do with less than what Palestinian law would provide them.
What we're left with is a set of moral, financial, and political decisions as to whether the US government should press the Palestinian Authority to pay what the US Federal Court demands in order to pursue an appeal to the anti-terrorist judgment, or to forego the appeal and be liable for the entire amount of the $655.5 verdict.
It does not appear unreasonable, at least from an Israeli perspective, for the Palestinians to stop paying 4,500 individuals who have been convicted in Israeli courts for various crimes, in many cases murders of numerous civilians.
Would eating into that portion of the Palestinian budget, or even into more items, like what is said to be a highly bloated workforce, made up largely of families connected to those with political influence, threaten the US ideal of a two-state solution, or create the greater chaos of a West Bank uncontrolled by an Authority that formally forswears violence?
Israelis have a long history of arguing among themselves about elaborate efforts to define boundaries and other provisions suitable to the perspectives of those who propose them. Overseas Jews and others join the action, either with their own ideas or money donated to Israeli or international committees that gather data, draw maps, and propose a sharing of this and a division of that.
The latest proposal comes from President Reuven Rivlin, who has said on several occasions that he has lost faith in a two state solution, and suggests "an Israeli-Palestinian confederation without borders," with freedom of movement for both populations. Yet he may not push hard for such a solution, insofar as he also condemns Palestinian terror, and holds Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responsible for incidents in which Israelis were killed or injured.
The simplest and continuing explanation for frustrated aspirations appears to be what is now the predictable rejection of proposals by whoever claims to speak for Palestinians. It appears to be a situation where the extremists exercise a veto on anything less than their ideal. And that ideal is a state without an Israeli neighbor, and perhaps without Jews as residents.
The stream of rejections began with what the British proposed in the 1930s, and continued through resolutions passed by Arab delegates at Khartoum in 1967, then rejections by Palestinians of what Prime Ministers Barak and Olmert proposed in 2000 and 2008, and what US Secretary of State John Kerry indicated as reasonable last year.
Now a federal judge must decide whether the shaky finances of the Palestine Authority are worth overlooking or bending established provisions meant to protect US civilians from terror.
We shouldn't expect this to be resolved quickly. The terror incidents that led to this court action occurred between 2002 and 2004. The court verdict came down in February of this year, and the government sent its letter to the court in the past week. Assuming appeals go forward, many of us will reach our dotage, or worse, before US courts issue their final verdict.
In a separate case, a Federal Court found the Arab Bank of Jordan liable for financing terrorism associated with attacks against Americans by Hamas. Prior to the determination of damages, the Bank is said to have reached agreement with the plaintiffs, about sums not made public. Those among us who think in economic terms must be patient. It'll take a while to see if the price of terrorism reduces its incidence.