Washington stays out of PLO terror suit

US concerned about impact of terror victims' cases on financial and political viability of defendants.

Bush 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bush 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Bush administration on Friday declined to interfere in the case of American terror victims who are suing the Palestine Liberations Organization. A judge in one of the multi-million dollar suits had asked the administration whether it wanted to weigh in on the cases, which the PLO has argued contradict American policy which is currently providing money to the cash-strapped Palestinians in an effort to bolster the population. On Friday, US attorneys told the court the United States government would not be participating in this case, but held out the possibility that it might join in other similar suits. "The United States supports just compensation for victims of terrorism from those responsible for their losses and has encouraged all parties to resolve these cases to their mutual benefit," the lawyers wrote. "At the same time, the United States remains concerned about the potentially significant impact that these cases may have on the financial and political viability of the defendants." State Department Spokesman Tom Casey said Friday afternoon that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad "have acknowledged that these individuals deserve compensation" and would like to "see some mechanism found to provide fair and just compensation to these individuals." Casey suggested the parties might be able to find "an equitable settlement" as has been arrived at in other terror-related cases. David Strachman, a lawyer representing several of the bereaved family members, welcomed the administration's decision. "We are grateful that at this time the US government has decided to support justice over terror and that it will not now enter the case to support the terrorists," he said in a statement. "On behalf of the families who have suffered so much, we will do everything we can to ensure that justice will prevail." Leslye Knox, Strachman's client, also expressed relief at the decision. She and her family members have been awarded $192 million in damages from the PLO following a terror attack in Hadera which killed her husband, Aharon Ellis, leaving her a single mother with six children. It was her judgment on which the Bush administration was asked to take a position. Following the decision, she said, "I am glad that the government will not interfere at this stage and am hopeful that it will refrain from supporting the legal position of the terrorists-defendants in the future." Fayad said in a statement that it was critical that the West Bank government be given an opportunity to defend itself. "These cases, which seek nearly a billion dollars by default, unquestionably will have a major impact on the financial and political viability of the Palestinian Authority," Fayad said. Washington lawyer Mark Rochon, representing the Palestinian Authority, has said the judgment should be set aside. At the urging of Rochon, the judge in the case formally asked the US government in December whether it wanted to take a position on the case. The Associated Press contributed to this report.