Last Monday, a US jury ordered the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization to pay over $218 million to the victims (and their families) of terrorist attacks in Israel that the PA provided material support for. The trial provided retribution for attacks that took place between 2002 to 2004, which killed 33 people and injured over 450. The fine could be tripled under the US Anti-Terrorism Act. Attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner claimed, “Now the PLO and the PA know there is a price for supporting terrorism,” insinuating a decline in attacks. But will this really change anything?
Although this verdict is a great symbolic victory against terrorism, one can question its practicality. The PA, which has been in state of perpetual bankruptcy since its inception largely due to corruption, has stooped to new levels of financial disparity. In response to the PA applying to join the International Criminal Court at The Hague, the Israeli government recently started withholding the tax it collects on behalf of the PA, leaving the PA even more financially depleted. Considering that the PA has no money, it is highly unlikely that the PA will pay the victims of the terror attacks anything at all. Since these trials, filled with testimonies from victims and their families — which undoubtedly forced them to re-live the most horrific and traumatic events of their lives — will almost certainly result in no compensation, one may ask whether there was any point to them at all.
However, upon closer inspection, these trials have actually had practical benefits for the State of Israel, in addition to serving to share the narratives of Israeli victims and their families. At a time when anti-Israel sentiments seem to be winning the public relations war, the well-publicized trial highlighting the PA’s role in terrorist atrocities surely bolsters Israel’s public image as a nation under attack, rather than an imperialist oppressor.
This case, in accordance with other trials, has concerned the PA. According to Ynet News, the PA refused to comment on the lawsuit, but several senior Palestinian officials said the case is being closely watched in Ramallah and acknowledged that they are worried about the outcome. Moreover, the fact that the court ruled against the PA in the New York Federal Court threatens to undermine Palestinian efforts to rally international support for a brewing battle at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The fact that the PA has now been convicted in aiding and abetting terrorists will show their attempts to sue Israel for war crimes at the international court to be hypocritical and lower their legitimacy.
Furthermore, in order to avoid hurting its relations with the US and despite its financial difficulties, the PA might actually be forced to pay these victims some sort of compensation, if only to show that it does not disrespect the authority of US law. Obviously, no amount of money can compensate for the loss of life and limb experienced by the victims and their families, but as plaintiff attorney Kent Yalowitz stated in his closing arguments, “…[I]f the only thing you can give them is money, then money has to stand in as compensation for the unspeakable loss.”