Last month’s stunning $655.5 million judgment against the Palestinian Authority and PLO for their roles in six terrorist attacks that affected 10 American families, has been described as “historic.”
While the defendants had lost several cases via default, this was the first time an American jury returned a guilty verdict against the pair.
The jury reported to Judge George Daniels that they were “almost” finished after only a few hours of deliberations, even though the trial had run a full six weeks. In the end, they came back for one more morning session before announcing the guilty-on-all charges verdict and the $218.5m. judgment, which was tripled, as per the law under which the suit was filed.
While the verdict and damages represent a great victory for the families, lawyers Kent Yalowitz of Arnold and Porter and Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Shurat Hadin and their associates, as well as for terrorism victims throughout the world, there is another very important aspect of the outcome that should not be ignored.
The PLO, for most of its existence, was treated by the US government as a terrorist organization. Through the machinations of Yasser Arafat and his Oslo Peace Accords partners, the PLO became a “good” organization, and the Palestinian Authority was born for the purpose of paving the way to Palestinian statehood. As the PLO charter makes clear, there is no organization other than the PLO (and its affiliated PA) that has the right or ability to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people. This plank has been universally accepted and no alternative body has been seriously sought or presented.
So now the world has quite a big elephant in the room to ignore: the group universally accepted as the one that must negotiate some type of final-status peace deal with Israel has been found guilty of offering material support in half a dozen terrorist attacks that resulted in nearly 500 dead and wounded people.
Does it occur to anyone that maybe the idea of a federally-branded terrorist organization being the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people is problematic, to say the least? Why should Israel be forced to make any concessions to or even sit across the table from a group that a US court found to have offered material support in multiple terrorist acts directed at unarmed civilians? These are the questions people in Washington, Brussels and elsewhere should be asking. Obviously, it would never occur to them to consider such questions. It’s the PLO/PA or bust.
One argument that might be forwarded by the high-powered international negotiators in the “Quartet” is that all of the attacks adjudicated in New York last month actually occurred over a decade ago. And it is true that the six attacks occurred in Jerusalem between 2002-2004. The argument would continue by pointing out that Arafat is dead, many of the players from that period are either in jail (Marwan Barghouti), out of politics (Salam Fayyad) or dead (Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin). So the PA of today is not the PA of old, according to this argument, and Israel can thus continue to negotiate with it, because it has shed its bloody past.
The problem is that this is just not the case. One of the most powerful arguments presented at the trial revolved around the continuing payments to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails. These payments occur every month and they are occurring now.
If the PA had turned over a new leaf, one would expect that it would stop giving money to convicted terrorists and the families of suicide bombers. But the payments keep coming. While the PA’s lawyers argued that their client simply pays every Palestinian in Israeli jail as a form of social security, one of their own witnesses admitted that if the PA wanted to, it could quickly determine who was a murderer and who was not.
The PA is obviously not interested in distinguishing between terrorists and car thieves, and actually the PA kicks its terrorists employees up in rank as the latter sit in Israeli jail. During the opening statements, their lawyer had the nerve to compare this practice to Senator John McCain keeping his Navy captain rank while in North Vietnamese captivity. John McCain was a war hero; he did not blow up civilians in malls and buses.
The next argument will be that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is different, that while one might find uncomfortable tapes of Arafat calling for a million martyrs or demanding blood and fire, Abbas is the ultimate bureaucrat. He has met with Israeli prime ministers and in reality he has made on occasion some surprisingly positive statements.
But is Abbas so different than his predecessor? A very interesting episode that occurred just last October provides some insight. An American, Rabbi Yehuda Glick, gave a talk at the Begin Center in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Glick is an activist in favor of Jews being allowed to pray on the Temple Mount. There is a great deal of opposition to such a right – many leading rabbis hold that Jews today cannot ascend the Temple Mount, while politicians and police prefer to keep things quiet by generally keeping Jews out. Rabbi Glick is not a violent person and has never suggested that granting Jews the right to pray should come at the expense of Muslims who attend the two mosques at the same location.
After he finished his speech, Glick was on his way out when a Palestinian terrorist shot him at close range. Glick hovered between life and death, and recovered in what one might call a miracle. Israeli forces identified the attacker and surrounded his house; when the gunman refused to surrender, he was killed in an exchange of fire.
One would have expected Abbas to condemn the wanton shooting of a rabbi whose opinions may not be liked but who never supported violence. No, Abbas instead sent a condolence letter to the family of the gunman, in which Abbas praised the shooter as a “martyr,” said that he no doubt was in paradise and described the Israeli police and military forces who fought with him as murderers.
This is not Arafat, this is Abbas – the same Abbas who routinely praises other Palestinian terrorists and names streets and squares after those who blew themselves up to kill Jews. Even today, an unindicted conspirator in one of the attacks presented at the trial is a minister in the present Abbas government.
Oh, and Abbas has stayed on a good five years beyond the end of his term. Arafat would be proud.
Everyone except the Islamists wants peace between Israel and the Palestinians. What that peace will entail and how it will be enforced is to be decided. But one cannot reach a peace if the two parties involved in negotiations are playing by different sets of rules. The PA, and its “mother ship” the PLO, have been found guilty by a New York jury of being terrorists and harming American families.
This is not the opinion of some right-wing Israeli politician up for election or an Israeli defense minister planning how to crush the territories. One of the three branches of US government has returned a clear verdict that the PA must pay 10 US families hundreds of millions of dollars for its role in the death and injury of American citizens.
Just as many politicians are dropped because of previous poor or illegal behavior – spousal abuse, tax evasion, drugs, illegal nannies, philandering, etc. – so too the PA should no longer be considered a credible “peace partner” until it a) pays its victims and b) changes its ways in a verifiable and credible manner.
For peace to be achieved between Israel and its neighbors, all parties must see in peace advantages they lack today. Anwar Sadat made peace very quickly because he very much wanted American military and economic aid; he went straight to the Knesset to move peace forward with Israel because he saw a strong advantage to peace and the fruits of peace. King Hussein of Jordan met virtually every Israeli prime minister during his lifetime because he understood that peaceful relations with Israel, which were only formalized in the 1990s, served his country’s stability.
The Palestinians, to show that they want peace, must put into power officials who are not only clean of terror but take concrete steps to move the PA away from terrorism and its supporters. A peaceful PA will not pay terrorists’ salaries, will arrest outstanding terrorists for appropriate prison sentences, and will stop all incitement in PA radio broadcasts and school textbooks. US Secretary of State John Kerry should pull out his inner James Baker and publicly give the PA State’s phone number and tell them to call when they are serious about peace. Until then, he should just leave Israel alone.The author is CTO of Lishtot, Ltd. (www.lishtot.com) and a plaintiff in the recently- completed Sokolow vs. PLO referenced in the article.