A US federal court just ordered the Palestinian Authority to pay $218 million in damages to terrorism victims

Palestinian President Mahmoud AbbasRichard Drew/APPalestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sit in the ceremonial chair after his addresses to the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014.

A US jury on Monday ordered the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Palestinian Authority to pay more than $US218 million for providing material support to terrorists, a victory for Americans suing over attacks in the Jerusalem area more than a decade ago, according to Reuters.

The attacks occurred during the Second Intifada, the 2000-2005 uprising in which nearly 800 civilians were killed in terror attacks carried out by Palestinian militant groups.

The verdict in the politically sensitive trial in Manhattan federal court added a new dimension to the long-running Middle East conflict, as American victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sought to use US courts to seek damages.

Jurors found in favour of 10 American families suing over six attacks attributed to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas. The award could be tripled under the US Anti-Terrorism Act.

Victims and their families had requested more than $US350 million, or over $US1 billion after tripling, over shootings and bombings from 2002 to 2004 that killed 33 people and injured over 450.

The PLO and Palestinian Authority are expected to appeal, and it is unclear whether victims would be able to collect if the award were upheld. Given the current crisis within the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, it’s unlikely that it’s capable of paying out the reward if the PA could somehow be coerced into doing so.

The decision comes at a sensitive point in relations between the US, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority. In December 2014, the PA, which is led by president Mahmoud Abbas, joined the International Criminal Court, raising the possibility that the Palestinian leadership could charge Israeli officials over alleged war crimes. The PA officially becomes an ICC member on April 1st.

Israel deemed this to be a unilateral decision that violated a series of previous agreements, including the 1993 Oslo Accords, which launched the current Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The June 2014 formation of a unity government between Fatah, which runs the Abbas-led PA, and Hamas, an Islamist militia which both Israel and US consider a terrorist organisation, already resulted in Israel withholding reimbursements of tax revenues it collects on behalf of the PA.

This cratered the PA’s budget, forcing it to cut staff and salaries. On February 23rd, Israel temporarily cut power to the West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin to press for payment of what it said was $US492 million owed by the Palestinian government, according to Reuters.

Palestine HamasIbraheem Abu Mustafa/ReutersToday’s decision raises the possibility that the PA could be held liable for attacks by Hamas, a militant group that signed on to a unity government with Fatah, the PA’s dominant party, in June of 2014.

Today’s decision exposes the PA’s legal vulnerabilities over its members’ and constituent groups’ connection to terrorism against Israelis. This ruling, along with its ongoing financial instability means that the PA will have to proceed cautiously in potential ICC cases against Israel, according to Grant Rumley, a researcher at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies.

“If Abbas is responsible for even the most loosely affiliated foot soldiers during the Second Intifada over a decade ago, what do you think his level of responsibility is for Hamas rockets after having signed a reconciliation agreement and forming a unity government with them?,” Rumley explained to Business Insider. “That’s the question that’s going to rack the Palestinian leadership.”

This isn’t the only notable recent US court decision related to Palestinian terrorism. In September, a federal court held the Jordan-based Arab Bank liable for terrorist attacks against US citizens, since it had hosted the finances of Hamas-linked organisations and individuals.

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