Attorneys for 11 American families who won a potential billion-dollar judgment against the Palestinian leadership, which a federal jury blamed for a string of deadly terror attacks, say the U.S. government took the side of terrorists when it weighed in on the case Monday.
The State and Justice departments filed a "statement of interest" in the case known as Sokolow v. PLO, urging U.S. District Judge George Daniels not to force the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian Liberation Organization to post bond of up to $30 million per month while it appeals the jury's February decision. Daniels had previously said he may require the bond as “some meaningful demonstration that the defendant is ready and willing to pay the judgment.”
"The State Department should stand on the side of the American terror victims and not on the side of the Palestinian suicide bombers."
- Nitsana Darshan Leitner, attorney for victims' families
In the statement and an accompanying affidavit from Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the government warned that requiring the cash-strapped Palestinian government to make the bond payments could leave its ability to govern "severely compromised."
" ... the continued viability of the PA is essential to key U.S. security and diplomatic interests, including advancing peace between Israel and the Palestinians, supporting the security of U.S. allies such as Israel, Jordan and Egypt, combating extremism and terrorism, and promoting good governance," read Blinken's affidavit.
The government said it supported the rights of the victims to pursue justice, and condemned the acts of terror underpinning the civil suit, initially filed a decade ago, but objected to the bond requirement. The move was anticipated by the families’ lawyers, who told FoxNews.com last week that the federal government was preparing the statement.
"The State Department should stand on the side of the American terror victims and not on the side of the Palestinian suicide bombers," attorney Nitsana Darshan Leitner told FoxNews.com Tuesday.
The families' legal team bitterly cites the fact that the Palestinian government continues to pay imprisoned terrorists and the families of suicide bombers as evidence it has money to meet its legal obligations.
"The State Department ignores the fact that the Palestinians continue to pay monthly payments to imprisoned terrorists and to the families of the suicide bombers, who devastated the lives of the victims in this case,” Darshan Leitner said. "If the Palestinians have the funds to continue making these payments, they certainly have the funds to post a bond."
The Department of Justice declined to comment on the case. A State Department spokesperson rejected the charge that the Obama administration was siding against American citizens.
“This filing is a statement of the interests of the United States and not on behalf of any party,” the spokesperson told FoxNews.com. “It addresses the critical U.S. national security and foreign policy interests that should be considered.”
The families won a $218.5 million judgment in February after a seven-week trial in Manhattan Federal Court in which a jury found the Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestinian Authority were responsible for a string of attacks from 2001 to 2004 that killed 33 and injured hundreds. A 1992 law that requires damages in such cases to be tripled, as well as interest on the award, would push it to as much as $1.1 billion. The judgment, which the Palestinians are appealing, would equal nearly a third of the Palestinian Authority’s annual operating budget.
Another member of the families' legal team, Kent Yalowitz, echoed Leitner's claim that the Palestinian leadership cannot claim poverty while paying killers. But he applauded language in the statement that appeared to back his clients' ultimate right to collect damages.
"We are gratified that the Department of Justice supports the rights of survivors of international terrorism to enforce their rights and collect the judgment but disappointed that the State Department failed to take any stand against the PLO and PA's policy of putting convicted terrorists on their payroll as soon as they are jailed,” said Yalowitz.