The Palestinian Authority (PA) could be forced to pay up to 1 billion shekels ($280 million) in damages after an Israeli court ruled that it was liable for attacks during the Second Intifada.
In an unprecedented decision, the Jerusalem District Court today ruled that the PA is "liable" for attacks which took place during the Second Intifada, the popular Palestinian uprising which took place between 2000 and 2005.
The ruling cited the PA's "financial and practical support" for the attacks, claiming that, along with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the authority provided "ideological encouragement" for the incidents. It also referenced the PA's policy of paying stipends to the families of Palestinians incarcerated in Israeli prisons, and the naming of streets and city squares after Palestinians killed by Israeli forces as evidence of the authority's "liability".
The amount of damages the PA must pay was not stated in the ruling, but could reach a maximum of 1 billion shekels. For an authority reportedly on the verge of financial collapse, the sums could prove crippling.
The PA has not yet issued a statement on the court proceedings, nor is it clear if it has any recourse to appeal the decision.
The case was filed by infamous legal advocacy group Shurat HaDin, which regularly fights court battles on Israel's behalf. Shurat HaDin has been responsible for a pushing holiday rental giant Airbnb to renege on its decision to delist properties located in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, closing fundraising accounts associated with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and intervening to halt an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into Israel's 2010 assault on the Mavi Marmara.
President of Shurat HaDin, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, called today's court ruling a "historic" decision, claiming it "proves the Intifada was a war waged against citizens of Israel".
This is not the first case Shurat HaDin has filed in a bid to hold the PA and PLO accountable for Second Intifada attacks. In 2004, the group filed "Sokolow v. Palestine Liberation Organization" in a US court, attempting to sue the PLO and PA under the US Antiterrorism Act of 1991. However, in 2016 the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, New York, dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that US courts did not have the jurisdiction to rule against international bodies in civil cases.
When the US Supreme Court upheld the ruling, this prompted the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 (ACTA), which was signed into law by US President Donald Trump. ACTA gave US courts the jurisdiction to hear terrorism-related lawsuits against any foreign entity receiving financial assistance from the US government. Since the PA has historically received millions of dollars in US aid and support for its security services, this meant that it could face lawsuits in the US asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation.
Following the imposition of ACTA, then-Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah sent a letter to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, refusing all future financial assistance from the US. The letter stated that though the PA "is, and always will be, grateful for the past economic support of the American people […] US economic aid to Palestine now has become a dividing force due to the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 (ACTA)".
The move left the US and Israel scrambling to preserve security coordination with the PA, believing the lack of funding could leave the authority unable to administer the occupied West Bank. Last month this was brought to the fore when the Israeli army fired at PA security forces in Nablus, injuring one. Israel claimed it had not realised the men were PA security forces, while Governor of Nablus Ibrahim Ramadan told the PA's Wafa news agency that the "dangerous part [of] this incident is that a Palestinian military headquarters was targeted".