Promoting Security and Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Junior Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma introduced the Promoting Security and Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act of 2019 (S. 2132) in July 2019. It would require the Palestinian Liberation Organization to pay American citizens for damages due to terrorism in Israel. Since then, the bill has been scheduled for full consideration by the entire Senate. However, the bill is not without controversy. Critics of the bill argue it undermines PLO’s ability to represent the Palestinian people; therefore, it will stifle any Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act

S. 2132 revises the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA), which was made law in early Oct. 2018. The ATCA “amend[s]title 18, United States Code, to clarify the meaning of the terms ‘act of war’ and ‘blocked asset.’” It changes three provisions of the U.S. federal criminal code concerning citizens’ claims of damages from international terrorism:

  1. The bill clarifies that groups that the U.S. has designated as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) are not military forces. Therefore, U.S. citizens can make claims against them for damages that occur during an armed conflict.

  2. It renders foreign assets of a terrorist group seized under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act available “for the satisfaction of court-awarded judgments against the terrorist party.”

  3. Finally, the ATCA enables U.S. federal courts “to exercise personal jurisdiction” over any foreign non-state actor that accepts foreign assistance from the United States.

Changes with S. 2132

The key change S. 2132 makes to the ATCA is that it deems the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) liable for American deaths that occurred during the Second Intifada in the early 2000s. If passed, S. 2132 could force the PLO and PA to pay upwards of $655 million in damages to 11 U.S. families.

The bill directs the Secretary of State to meet with representatives of the PLO and PA to discuss and settle American citizens’ claims against the organizations. The Secretary of State shall then report the State Department’s activities to Congress. Furthermore, the bill stipulates that the U.S. government should work directly with both the victims or their representatives as well as the PA and PLO to resolve these claims. The State Department should insist that the PA and PLO engage in “good-faith negotiations to resolve and settle all covered claims.”

The Controversy

If S. 2132 passes, it would force the PLO and PA to choose between losing their status at the United Nations or losing all U.S. foreign aid. The terrorism claims for which the PLO and PA could be held liable were previously dismissed in 2016 by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals because the attacks occurred completely outside of American territory and were not proven to be specifically targeted at Americans. The U.S. Supreme Court chose not to review the decision.

Critics of the bill further argue that it would force the Palestinian Authority to go bankrupt if it wants to maintain its status at the U.N. However, if the PA opts to downgrade its status at the U.N. and continue to receive U.S. security assistance, that would also be catastrophic. The PA would then be forced to “forgo [the]pursuit of war crimes claims against Israelis by withdrawing from the Rome Statute, the treaty establishing the ICC.” Either way, the bill may prevent the PA and PLO from representing the Palestinian people. Such an outcome would significantly stifle any peace process.

Status of the Bill

Sen. James Lankford [R-OK] introduced S. 2132: The Promoting Security and Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act of 2019 to the U.S. Senate. It was read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. The bill has five cosponsors (3D, 2R). S. 2132, was first considered by the committee, but then faced some alteration of the wording of the bill.

On Oct. 17, the Judiciary Committee assigned an updated version of S. 2132 to be considered by the entire Senate. Four days later, S. 2132 was placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Only 25 percent of bills make it out of committee. According to Skopos Labs, there is a 15 percent chance that the bill will be enacted.

S. 2132: The Promoting Security and Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act of 2019 is a short yet controversial bill that will soon be up for consideration by the whole U.S. Senate. On one hand, S. 2132 would allow U.S. citizens to receive compensation for terrorism-related damages. On the other, the bill could pose serious problems for any Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Now, it is up to the Senate to decide how to act on the bill.

Sarah Frazer
Photo: Flickr

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