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(photo credit: Channel 1)
The Jerusalem District Court ruled on Sunday that even if the Palestinian Authority does not have the status of a state, it is immune from lawsuits filed by private individuals because it has the elements of a sovereign or quasi-sovereign entity.
The ruling, if upheld by the Supreme Court, constitutes a landmark decision that would put an end to more than 120 lawsuits worth billions of shekels filed by private individuals, companies and victims of terrorism since the outbreak of the second intifada.
The ruling, which was handed down by Judge Boaz Okun, who also heads the Courts Authority, contradicts several rulings handed down by the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv district courts that said the PA could be sued by private individuals. The PA has appealed these decisions to the Supreme Court, which has not yet handed down a decision on the matter.
If the Supreme Court rejects the PA appeal, it will also automatically overturn Okun's ruling.
Sunday's ruling came in the wake of a lawsuit lodged earlier this year by the Society of the Eilon Moreh Seminary, an organization established to purchase land in the West Bank. The seminary sued the sheikh of a village in Area A, which is under complete PA control, for falsely declaring that people agreeing to sell village land to the society indeed owned the land. After the society paid for the land, it emerged that the sheikh's affidavit was false.
The society sued the sheikh in Tel Aviv District Court and won. But the estate of the sheikh, who had meanwhile died, ignored the ruling and did not pay. The society then sued the PA and the Israeli government for the damages they could not collect from the sheikh's estate.
In his ruling Sunday, Okun wrote that Israel cannot compel the PA to exercise a prerogative that belongs to it and which, together with other prerogatives that Israel has recognized, give the authority elements of sovereignty.
Even if Israel does not recognizes it as a state, "certain rules of customary international law apply to the PA, including immunity," wrote Okun. "The application of this rule has nothing to do with the answer to the question of whether the PA is a state. It is sufficient to say that it is a sovereign body, or a quasi-sovereign body that imposes its authority on an area regarded by Israel as outside Israel. The application of immunity to the PA is also derived from a reading of the aims of the  Interim Agreement [between Israel and the PLO] as well as the [Israeli] law implementing the interim agreement," he wrote.
The judge wrote that after the Six Day War, the IDF commander of the West Bank was the source of authority in the area, based on the rules of international law. But the situation changed after the signing of the Interim Agreement, which dealt with the "status of the occupied territories."
Okun wrote that the agreement changed the legal situation altogether. "Some of the territories were defined as 'territory of the Palestinian Council.' At the same time, the law also recognized the 'Palestinian Authority' in these territories. There is no need to get involved, in this instance, with the question of the exact legal status of the PA. It is a complicated matter. It is enough to say that the PA was given, at least in Area A, certain prerogatives belonging to the sovereign."
He described the PA as a "sovereign-type body." Okun also rejected the plaintiff's demand to sue the Israeli government.