U.S. ‘to intervene’ in Palestinian terror case

U.S. officials are concerned that the payments sought by the victims would put the PA on shaky financial ground

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A lawyer for Americans who were awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in a lawsuit over Palestinian terror attacks condemned the U.S. government on Tuesday for moving to intervene in the case.

The government took a step closer to wading into the high-stakes civil case as representatives from the Justice and State departments met with relatives of the victims to discuss a jury verdict that American officials fear could weaken the stability of the Palestinian government.

At issue is $218.5 million in damages awarded by a New York jury in February for attacks that killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more - a penalty lawyers say would be automatically tripled under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act.

The case has represented one of the most notable efforts by American victims of the Israel-Palestinian conflict to seek damages in U.S. courts.

U.S. victims and their relatives have filed suit in federal court in New York against the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

The six attacks took place between 2001 and 2004, killing 33 people and injuring more than 390 others, including members of the 11 plaintiff families.

But the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which were held liable for the bloodshed, have indicated that they are unable to pay the damages and won't provide money while their appeal is pending.

American officials are concerned that monthly bond payments sought by the victims would put the cash-squeezed Palestinian Authority on shaky financial ground and weaken the group's ability to govern.

The Justice Department is likely to file a statement of interest in the case soon urging a judge to keep in mind those potential economic ramifications.

“While we cannot comment on the substance of any possible filing, any filing would be a statement of the interests of the United States and not on behalf of the PA or any other party,” according to a joint statement issued by the Justice and State departments.

Kent Yalowitz, a lawyer for the victims, condemned the Justice Department for its position, saying the government was “considering putting a thumb on the scale because the Palestinians don't like the results now that the jury has spoken.”

“The Palestinians got a fair trial. The judgment was foreseeable, and they can afford to pay it over time,” he added.

In a separate letter this week to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the victims urged the Justice Department to stay out of the dispute and not “undermine the judgment in our case without taking into account the very real ability of the PLO and the PA to pay the judgment over time and stand accountable for their crimes.”

They said they were seeking small monthly installments rather than a lump sum, which they say makes the penalty more reasonable.

“This is a very practical solution that will allow us to ensure that over time the funds will be available to satisfy our judgment without destroying their ability to function,” they said.