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Why did this administration back the Palestine Liberation Organization in terrorism case?

Why did this administration back the Palestine Liberation Organization in terrorism case?

Even for an administration that produces a surprise a day, this one is a shocker. The U.S. Solicitor General, the Justice Department official who represents the government before the Supreme Court, came down on the side of the PLO on Feb. 22 in a lawsuit filed by American families and victims of terrorist attacks in Israel.

The Trump administration wants the Supreme Court to refuse to hear the case of Sokolow v Palestine Liberation Organization, filed in 2004 by U.S. victims and families of terrorist attacks in Israel under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 1992.

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Congress passed the ATA largely in response to the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old New Yorker, in 1985. Klinghoffer was shot in the head and thrown overboard in his wheelchair when Palestinian Liberation Front guerillas took over a cruise ship.

 

“The ATA provides that perpetrators or supporters of international terrorism may be brought to justice in U.S. courts for injuring U.S. citizens regardless of where the injuries occurred,” wrote Sen. Charles GrassleyChuck GrassleyGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks National Sheriffs' Association backs Biden pick for key DOJ role Bipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers MORE, the bill’s original sponsor, in a letter to Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTanden withdraws nomination as Biden budget chief Manchin flexes muscle in 50-50 Senate Udalls: Haaland criticism motivated 'by something other than her record' MORE last fall.

Grassley was one of 23 Senators who filed an amicus brief last April backing the families’ request that the Supreme Court take up the case. In 2016, the U.S. Second Circuit Court reversed a decision a year earlier by a District Court jury.

The lower court found the PLO liable for killing and injuring Americans in six shootings and bombings in the Jerusalem area from 2002 to 2004 and awarded $656 million in damages.

That trial, which lasted seven weeks, was heart-wrenching. One of the plaintiffs, Robert Coulter testified how he learned that his 36-year-old daughter, in Israel on a business trip, was a victim of a cafeteria bombing. “They brought a body bag out on the TV…and went right down to where she was laying, and I knew it was a girl, had blond hair,” said Coulter. “I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, that’s Janis.’”

This is exactly the kind of murder and mayhem that the ATA was designed to prevent, said the Senate brief, which was signed by such diverse lawmakers as Sens. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks The Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington on high alert as QAnon theory marks March 4 The Memo: Is Trump mounting a comeback — or finally fading? MORE (R-Texas) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenHillicon Valley: High alert as new QAnon date approaches Thursday | Biden signals another reversal from Trump with national security guidance | Parler files a new case Senators question Bezos, Amazon about cameras placed in delivery vans Democrats worry Senate will be graveyard for Biden agenda MORE (D-Mass.); Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchHow President Biden can hit a home run Mellman: What happened after Ginsburg? Bottom line MORE (R-Utah) and Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSenate panel splits along party lines on Becerra House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade A Biden stumble on China? MORE (D-N.Y.); James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Tim Kaine moves to claw back war powers authority | Study on sexual harassment and assault in the military Commissioners tasked with scrubbing Confederate base names sworn-in at first meeting Biden seeks to walk fine line with Syria strike MORE (R-Okla.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

A similar amicus brief was filed on behalf of the entire U.S. House of Representatives. “In order to effectively address international terrorism,” it said, “Congress expressly gave [the] cause of action a broad extraterritorial sweep.”

Another brief was filed by a group of seven former federal officials, including two U.S. Attorneys General in Republican Administrations, John Ashcroft and Dick Thornburgh, and former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

They pointed out that the State and justice departments both endorsed the bill when it was being debated, with State saying it was a “welcome addition” to the anti-terrorism arsenal. Neither department “raised any question about the constitutionality of the ATA.”

Certainly, the PLO doesn’t want the Supreme Court reviewing the case. “This is a Palestinian victory that should not be underestimated,” said Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara after the appeals-court decision: and it is a big blow to anyone who attempts to blackmail us.” But why would the Trump administration, which continually burnishes it's terror-fighting credentials, file a brief siding with the PLO?

Even more baffling was that the Solicitor General focused almost exclusively on the rights of the Palestinians under the due-process protections of the Constitution, arguing that the PLO (which has offices in Washington and New York) is not sufficiently connected to U.S. territory and that the attacks in Israel were “indiscriminate — not aimed at Americans.”

Strangely silent was the State Department, despite a plea in August by Rep. Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceCalifornia was key factor in House GOP's 2020 success Top donor allegedly sold access to key politicians for millions in foreign cash: report Here are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year MORE (R-Calif), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonLawmakers to roll out legislation reorganizing State cyber office New State Department cyber bureau stirs opposition Blinken tells State Department staff 'I have your back' MORE, asking for support on the side of the victims’ suit. It’s the department’s responsibility to protect Americans abroad, so you would think Tillerson would want to retain the ATA as a defensive weapon.

Instead, Tillerson has been silent. If Trump administration officials are hoping to unveil a grand bargain soon between Palestinians and Israelis, they should understand that siding with the PLO in a court case won’t help. In fact, it is counter-productive.

Imposing actual, financial costs on those who use and support terrorism is the right way to achieve peace. Giving the Palestinian Authority a free pass on the costs of its addiction to terror will only perpetuate the violence that has prevented a settlement for so many decades.

James K. Glassman is the chairman and CEO of Glassman advisory, which is a consulting firm. He served as under secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs in the George W. Bush Administration.