Cabinet Divided over Issue of Compensating Palestinians

Israeli officials were at odds this week over the issue of providing compensation to Palestinian for injuries suffered during the intifada.

Damage suits pending in the Israeli court system that are related to the intifada – the 1987-1993 Palestinian uprising against Israeli administration in the territories – are estimated to total hundreds of millions of dollars.

Prime Minister Shimon Peres convened a special forum of ministers, legal advisers and military officials this week to discuss the matter.

Peres said Israel should not be responsible for compensation, because he felt that the damages suffered by Palestinians stemmed from what were essentially acts of war against Israel.

“The intifada was forced upon us,” Peres was quoted as saying. “No country in the world has paid damages from such a situation, and we do not have to be the exception.”

Peres said that just a Israel has paid damages to Jewish victims of the intifada, the Palestinian Authority should address claims by Arabs.

To this end, Peres said he supported legislation that would bar Palestinians from filing for damages in Israeli courts.

But Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair opposed this stand, saying that it might not hold up in the High Court of Justice.

Because Israel controlled the territories during the period in question, it cannot claim that it is not responsible for what happened, he said.

Ben-Yair said he would support taking the issue out of the courts, but only if an alternative mechanism were found.

“Throughout the years of occupation, the courts in Israel were open to the Arab residents of the territories,” Ben-Yair said. “We cannot suddenly [stop] this, without providing a suitable alternative.”

Ben-Yair, who suggested the formation of a compensation committee to examine each case, said those who suffered damages because they were directly involved in the intifada should not be compensated.

Internal Security Minister Moshe Shahal said he did not believe that any kind of tribunal should deal with the issue.

He said he supported the idea of giving a lump sum to the Palestinian Authority to distribute as it saw fit.

At the end of the meeting, Peres instructed Justice Minister David Libai and Ben-Yair to come up with a proposal for dealing with the issue by the end of this week.

The government is pressed to resolve the issue, because it is supposed to be included in a bill on implementing the Interim Agreement, the accord signed Sept. 28 in Washington for extending Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank.

The government would like the bill approved by the Knesset before the Palestinian elections, which are scheduled for Jan. 20.

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