The significance of the Federal District Court verdict here this week against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization, awarding damages amounting to $655.5 million to victims of six terror attacks in Israel, is far more than financial. By determining, after a legal battle of more than a decade, that the Palestinian organizations were supportive of and responsible for the attacks, which killed 33 people and injured 450 others, the jury in effect was saying that the PA and PLO are involved in terrorism in Israel.
The argument that these groups are “moderates” has been exposed as fraudulent, challenging the prevailing narrative of the Israeli-Arab dispute that suggests Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza are the primary militants and that the Mahmoud Abbas-led groups are on the side of peace.
The verdict awarded $218.5 million to the plaintiffs, who are relatives of the victims. According to a special terrorism law, that sum is automatically tripled. Among the attacks involved in this case were bombings at the Hebrew University cafeteria, on Jerusalem buses and in the city’s streets.
The verdict represents a serious problem for the PA, which is financially strapped and faces further cuts by Israel as a result of the Abbas decision to abandon the Mideast peace process and seek to join the International Criminal Court. PA spokespersons called the ruling’s charges “baseless” and said they would appeal.
The verdict also represents a serious diplomatic problem for the U.S., which has long maintained that the PA under Abbas is a peace-seeking partner for Israel. In much of the mainstream media, reflecting attitudes at the White House, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is the chief obstacle to a two-state solution and peace settlement. The evidence presented at the seven-week trial, however, indicated through testimony and financial documents that those who carried out the deadly attacks had been employed by the PA. In addition, it was determined that the PA provided salaries to jailed terrorists in Israel as well as funds for the families of suicide bombers.
In his closing argument, Kent Yalowitz, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told the jury that “money is oxygen for terrorism,” and that the antiterrorism law “hits those who send terrorists where it hurts them most: in the wallet.”
The case follows the victory several months ago here in the ruling against The Arab Bank, which was held responsible for transactions that knowingly provided funds to terror groups like Hamas. Another trial will assess damages for the 300 victims of the 24 attacks cited.
Looking forward, it will be that much more difficult for Washington to pressure Israel to negotiate with the PA and to continue to support the Palestinian leadership as it has until now. Time will tell whether this major court case will motivate U.S. officials to change their perspective and approach. Will they now show greater empathy for Israel’s concerns, or will they do their best to ignore the reality of the Palestinian leadership’s actions and continue down the path leading to a diplomatic dead-end.