The High Court of Justice on Sunday ruled that the Palestinian Authority can be held liable for terrorist acts, due to its controversial policy of paying stipends to security prisoners in Israeli jails and the families of those killed during attacks on Israelis.
Justice Yitzhak Amit, setting out the majority ruling, found that the decision to pay convicted Palestinian terrorists and those killed as part of the “struggle against Israel” makes the PA liable for their actions.
“[The PA] expresses its consent to their actions, in a manner that takes responsibility for the acts. This justifies that [the PA] will be assigned personal and direct responsibility,” Amit wrote.
The Palestinian Authority’s practice of paying terror stipends — often referred to by some Israeli officials as a pay-to-slay policy — has been pilloried by critics as incentivizing terror.
Palestinian leaders have long defended the payments, describing them as a form of social welfare and necessary compensation for victims of Israel’s military justice system in the West Bank.
The United States has pressured Ramallah to end the policy in recent years. In 2018, Congress passed legislation banning the US government from sending aid to the PA until it ended the practice. The matter remains a key bone of contention between the two sides.
The plaintiffs in the case to the High Court are four families who lost loved ones in four separate terror attacks during the early days of the Second Intifada some 20 years ago. The Jerusalem District Court rejected their petition, but the High Court, led by Justice Amit, ruled in their favor.
The case will now be returned to the Jerusalem District Court, which will determine the compensation owed to the four by the PA.
The legal debate in the High Court centered around the extent to which Ramallah’s prisoner payments “retroactively authorized” the terror attacks committed by their beneficiaries.
Under Israeli damages law, a party can be held liable not only if they “provide counsel, aid…or order and permit” legal damage — but also if they retroactively “ratify” damages done to another.
The court acknowledged that the decision is “precedent-setting and unusual” in its interpretation of the ratification clause in damages law.
It ruled, however, that the PA can only be sued for compensation, rather than punitive damages. This means relatively lower payouts can be ordered by courts in which Ramallah may be tried.
Earlier on Sunday, the government approved the establishment of a committee to examine the removal of state benefits such as pensions and other grants from the families of citizens who committed acts of terror.
A panel consisting of the directors of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Public Security Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the Welfare Ministry and other officials will be convened to formulate a recommendation within 60 days of its establishment.
“We are determined… to change the equation so that it will not be worthwhile to take part in terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens,” said Bennett. “Providing benefits from the state to terrorist families is utterly absurd and it is time to redress the injustice.”
“The State of Israel will hold anyone accountable who has a direct or indirect connection to the terrorist attacks,” he added.
Israel has seen four deadly terror attacks in recent weeks and has ramped up security measures in response, as well as carried out a number of raids in the West Bank.
Such legislation has been introduced in the past, but has not succeeded in passing the Knesset. It would also likely face a challenge in the Supreme Court.