This bill amends the language in the Antiterrorism Act of 1992 to make it easier for U.S. citizens who are victims of terrorism abroad to obtain compensation or punitive damages from perpetrators in U.S. courts. It does so, in part, by requiring recipients of most types of U.S. aid, such as the Palestinians, to accept a new legal standard called “personal jurisdiction,” eliminating exemptions for “acts of war,” and by permitting the payment of damages or compensation from funds otherwise frozen under U.S. sanctions law.
While the text of the law does not mention the Palestinians or the Arab-Israeli conflict, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) specifically cited the recent Supreme Court case Sokolow v. PLO in his press release announcing support for the measure (After a U.S. District Court initially imposed $655.5 m. in damages on the PLO in 2015, the Supreme Court upheld an appeals court’s decision to overturn the verdict in 4/2018. See JPS 47  for more on the case). “The history of Palestinian and Iranian terrorism against Americans is extensive, going decades and ranging from hijackings to suicide bombings and assassinations,” he wrote. “For too long American citizens have been disgracefully denied justice.” Numerous other members of Congress referred to the Sokolow decision as “flawed” in explaining their support for this measure.
After this bill passed into law, there was a spate of reports in late 11/2018 indicating that the Trump administration was attempting to block its implementation. Administration officials apparently did not realize until that point that the law forced the Palestinians to either accept U.S. aid or open themselves up to litigation in U.S. courts. They were reportedly worried that the Palestinians would reject the aid and, in so doing, compromise the IDF’s ongoing security coordination with the PA security forces. Because the deadline for the Palestinians to make their decision under the law was 1/31/19, administration officials worked with Congress through the end of 2018 to legislate a solution that would allow PASF-IDF coordination to continue unobstructed.