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Klinghoffer family finds closure after settling legal battle with PLO

NEW YORK, Aug. 12 (JTA) — The family of Leon Klinghoffer, a disabled passenger killed by Palestinian terrorists aboard an Italian cruise ship 12 years ago, has closed a long and painful chapter of their lives by agreeing to settle a lawsuit with the Palestine Liberation Organization. The sum agreed upon was not disclosed, which was a condition of the settlement, according to a family spokeswoman. The PLO also settled with Crown Travel, the New Jersey tour operator that booked the fateful cruise. The attack on Klinghoffer, whose body was thrown off the Achille Lauro into the Mediterranean Sea, for years exemplified the scourge of random violence emanating from the Middle East conflict. “Terrorism is a horror and sometimes it becomes impersonal,” said Kenneth Jacobson, ADL’s director of international affairs, who has worked closely with the family. “The Achille Lauro affair and the tragedy of Leon Klinghoffer became a symbol, a specific focus of the horror of terrorism and seemed to stay in people’s minds,” he said. The lawsuit originally was filed by Klinghoffer’s widow, Marilyn, who died not long after her husband’s murder. The case and a broader fight against terrorism was pursued relentlessly by the couple’s two daughters, Ilsa and Lisa. A tentative settlement between the family and the PLO in 1986 broke down. That settlement would have created an institute of peace studies that, according to a letter signed at the time, “would memorialize the tragic death of Leon Klinghoffer as well as other victims of violence.” The PLO has maintained that the attack was carried out by renegade members of the organization and it apparently has admitted no wrongdoing in the current settlement. Nonetheless, some speculate that the settlement reflects increasing pressure on the Palestinians in their negotiations with Israelis to demonstrate they are doing their utmost to fight terrorism. This week the daughters were referring questions to a longtime family friend, Letty Simon. She said they were “pleased and relieved the long-standing litigation reached amicable conclusion.” She refused to elaborate on their reaction. But she did say that the Klinghoffers had been “an extremely close family unit” and that “the loss of Leon Klinghoffer as a result of such a heinous crime is never easy to put behind you.” The daughters, said Simon, “had to suffer on the world stage a personal tragedy” that had international repercussions. For his part, Jacobson said of the settlement, “If the family feels satisfied, we’re supportive.” In 1986, the Klinghoffers established the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League, dedicated to countering terrorism through education and legislation. The settlement was approved last week by a federal judge in Manhattan, Louis Stanton, just weeks before the suit was to go to trial. The PLO’s attorney in the case, Ramsey Clark, was unavailable for comment.