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US Freezes Palestinian Assets

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    The time has come to freeze the assets of American supporters of Israel s existence, and to try them for treason. Palestinian Authority s U.S. Assets Frozen
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 3, 2005
      The time has come to freeze the assets of American supporters of
      Israel's existence, and to try them for treason.

      Palestinian Authority's U.S. Assets Frozen
      September 2, 2005

      The U.S. District Court in Rhode Island has ordered all Palestinian
      assets in the United States frozen after the Palestinian Authority
      declined to pay a $116 million terrorism settlement awarded to an
      American family last year. Ironically, this judgement comes as the
      family of Rachel Corrie waits for a court in Haifa to decide on their
      claim for just $324 thousand in damages from the government of Israel
      and the Israel Defense Forces for her death in 2003.

      According to a report by the Boston Globe, the frozen assets include
      a $1.3 billion Palestinian investment fund for economic development
      in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and bank accounts used to pay
      Palestinian representatives in Washington. The attorney appointed by
      an Israeli court to represent the victims, David J. Strachman of
      Providence, R.I., has initiated a court action to sell off the
      building owned by the PLO observer mission to the UN in New York.

      The case involves the 1996 shooting death of Yaron Ungar, a dual
      American-Israeli citizen, and his Israeli wife by three Hamas gunmen
      as they were returning from a wedding in Israel. Under a 1991
      antiterrorism law, U.S. citizens may sue in U.S. federal district
      court for damages caused by foreign terrorist organizations. The
      defendents in this case include the Palestinian Liberation
      Organization and the Palestinian Authority, as well as Hamas.
      According to Strachman and reported by the Globe, the Hamas members
      were found in possession of PA issued uniforms, linking them to the
      terrorist attack. In awarding the settlement last year, the court
      ruled that since Palestine is not a state, the PA and PLO are not
      entitled to immunity granted to most countries from such lawsuits.

      In a 2001 Boston University alumni publication article, Strachman is
      quoted as saying of the case, Ungar v. PLO and the Palestinian
      Authority, which he has worked on for seven years, "We are doing
      exactly what Congress, and those who wrote this legislation, wanted
      us to do – create an economic disincentive for terrorists. If the
      terrorists know that they can be forced to pay a lot, can even be
      bankrupted, then they may rethink their strategy. Appeals to any
      sense of morality have failed; appeals to their pocketbooks may work."

      The Globe quotes Robert Tolchin, an attorney working with Strachman,
      as saying "We're looking for money. If you create a cost for doing
      wrong, people will be motivated to stop doing wrong."

      Strachman's "aggressive" (the Globe's word) efforts to receive
      compensation for the Ungar family threaten Palestinian society on
      several fronts, according to the Globe:

      Freezing the PA's U.S. assets may destroy the Palestinian banking
      system, and hence its already-withering economy, since $30 million
      held by the Bank of America is used by the Palestinian Monetary
      Authority, the Palestinian equivalent of the U.S. Federal Reserve, in
      exchange reserves.
      The staff at the PLO mission in Washington have not been paid in
      three months, and efforts to send a new ambassador to Washington have
      been stalled because he or she would not be allowed access to a bank
      All money transfers to Palestinian missions in ten other countries
      have been halted by the Bank of America in New York.
      $110 million in US government aid to provide loan guarantees for
      small businesses in Gaza that was approved by the Overseas Private
      Investment Corporation last month is contingent upon the Palestinian
      Investment Fund making a substantial contribution. Since the Fund's
      assets have been frozen, the U.S. aid cannot be spent in Gaza.
      Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian finance minister, is reported to have
      asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for advice on the matter,
      since paying the $116 million award would set a precedent for
      numerous other lawsuits, four of which are already pending in U.S.
      courts, which would bankrupt the PA and stiffle U.S. efforts for
      development, democracy, and peace in the region. The Justice
      Department is expected to submit the U.S. government's position on
      the selling of the PLO mission in New York next month.

      The PLO is being represented by former attorney general Ramsey Clark.

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      Palestinian Authority's US assets are frozen
      By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff | August 30, 2005

      WASHINGTON -- A Rhode Island lawyer trying to collect a $116 million
      terrorism judgment against the Palestinian Authority has obtained a
      court-ordered freeze on all its US-based assets, severely limiting
      most Palestinian economic and diplomatic activities in the United
      States at a critical moment for the fledgling government.

      The frozen assets include US holdings in a $1.3 billion Palestinian
      investment fund meant to finance economic development as well as bank
      accounts used to pay Palestinian representatives in Washington,
      according to lawyers and court documents filed in Rhode Island,
      Washington, D.C., and New York. Also frozen are about $30 million in
      assets from the Palestinian Monetary Authority, the Palestinian
      equivalent of the US Federal Reserve.

      Providence attorney David Strachman, who is representing the orphaned
      children of a couple killed in Israel by Palestinian militants, has
      also initiated a court action to seize and sell the Palestinian-owned
      building in New York that serves as the Palestine Liberation
      Organization observer mission to the United Nations.

      The aggressive collection effort comes as the Palestinian Authority
      is struggling to create economic opportunity and set up a viable
      government. Now, Palestinian officials say, the unpaid claim in the
      Rhode Island court, resulting from a 2004 ruling, threatens to
      complicate their efforts to become a credible emerging state.

      But Strachman said if the Palestinian government wants to show the
      world that it is turning over a new leaf, it must obey the court's

      ''If you are a responsible party or entity or political organization,
      at the end of the day, you pay your judgment," Strachman said in a
      telephone interview from Israel, where he was on vacation. ''They
      have very brazenly refused to pay."

      The case puts the Bush administration in the delicate position of
      giving financial aid and political support to an entity that has
      refused to obey a US federal court order to pay terrorism victims.

      The case has created such a problem for Palestinians that Salam
      Fayyad, the Palestinian finance minister, recently asked Secretary of
      State Condoleezza Rice for advice, according to a Palestinian
      official who asked not to be identified. The State Department could
      not confirm Fayyad's request last night.

      The Justice Department told a court in New York that it will submit
      next month the US government's position about the PLO mission in New
      York, but it is unclear how much help the Bush administration can or
      will offer.

      ''For the administration, it's difficult," said one Palestinian
      official speaking from Gaza, who asked not to be identified because
      of the sensitivity of the case. ''Right now, they are trying to
      figure out a creative way to deal with it without embarrassing

      Palestinian officials have refused to pay the claim, arguing that
      doing so would be a politically dangerous admission of responsibility
      for terrorist acts by militants that the Palestinian Authority
      contends it does not control. Three officials interviewed by
      telephone from Gaza and the West Bank say they fear setting a
      precedent that would spur an avalanche of lawsuits that could
      bankrupt the new government. At least four other lawsuits involving
      deaths of US citizens in Palestinian attacks are pending in US

      But Strachman said that the Palestinians have billions in overseas
      banks, and that they are exaggerating the hardships that would be
      caused by paying the judgment.

      The case is the first to result in a financial judgment under a 1991
      antiterrorism law that allows US citizens to sue foreign
      organizations in civil court for terrorism. It stems from the 1996
      murders of Brooklyn-born Yaron Ungar, a US citizen, and his pregnant
      Israeli wife, Efrat, whose car was sprayed with bullets by Hamas
      militants. Those convicted of the crime were found to be carrying
      uniforms issued by the Palestinian Authority, according to Strachman,
      who was appointed by an Israeli court to represent the couple's

      In 2000, he filed a civil suit in Rhode Island, his home state. He
      sued Hamas, as well as then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the
      Palestinian Authority, which Arafat headed, and the PLO on the
      grounds that they had encouraged Hamas. Arafat hired Ramsey Clark,
      the former attorney general, who argued that the Palestinian
      Authority is a sovereign state, and deserved immunity from
      prosecution granted to most countries.

      Last year, the court ruled that Palestine is not a state, and that
      Hamas, the PLO, and the Palestinian Authority owed the Ungars $116
      million. In March, a federal appeals court upheld the verdict.

      In April, Strachman obtained a court order to freeze all the
      Palestinian government's assets in the United States, the first step
      to collecting by force. Since then, Strachman has been sending the
      court order to every US financial institution where the Palestinians
      might hold funds. Court proceedings are pending across the country to
      determine if the frozen assets truly belong to the Palestinian
      Authority or the PLO and should be handed over.

      Since Arafat's death last year, a more politically savvy generation
      of Palestinian leaders has stepped up the legal battle for release of
      the assets, using more traditional arguments. Lawyers are arguing in
      a New York court that the Bank of New York should release $30 million
      in assets on the grounds that the Palestinian Monetary Authority is
      an independent entity. In another action, lawyers are using a UN
      agreement with the United States to fight the move to sell the PLO

      But the largely unpublicized court fight for the assets has taken a
      major toll, Palestinians say.

      George T. Abed, the governor of the Palestinian Monetary Authority,
      wrote in an affidavit to the court in June that the freezing of
      Palestinian Monetary Authority assets had forced a halt of all
      Palestinian dollar transactions through the United States and
      could ''cause a banking crisis in the Palestinian territories with
      possible fallout elsewhere in the region." The Monetary Authority
      provides financial backing for banks in Palestinian territory.

      The unpaid claim has also brought a diplomatic price. It has
      frustrated Palestinian efforts to send a new ambassador to Washington
      because the envoy would have no functioning bank account, according
      to two of the Palestinian officials based in the West Bank.

      Staff at the PLO mission in Washington have not been paid for three
      months, according to Said Hamad, a senior member of the PLO mission
      in Washington.

      ''Unless the mission is able to use these funds, . . . it will be
      necessary to close the mission with attendant injuries to Palestine
      and its people and negative consequences to peace in the Middle
      East," Clark's legal team wrote in a motion earlier this month.

      Court documents show that the Bank of New York has halted money
      transfers to Palestinian missions in Ukraine, Guinea, Indonesia,
      Pakistan, the Ivory Coast, China, Bulgaria, Norway, Pakistan, and
      Colombia, as well as New York, because of the court order.

      The case could also hamper US government aid. Last month, the US
      government's Overseas Private Investment Corporation voted to
      contribute $110 million to a project that would give loan guarantees
      to small businesses in Gaza. But the Palestinian Investment Fund --
      whose US assets have been frozen by the court order -- is required to
      make a substantial contribution of its money as a condition for
      launching the project.

      A State Department official who asked not to be identified said the
      lawsuit had not yet prevented US aid from flowing to the
      Palestinians, but that he did not know whether it would be an

      Representative Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat who is also
      running for mayor in New York City, has called for the US government
      to halt aid to the Palestinian Authority until the claim is
      paid. ''If they wish to continue receiving checks from the US
      government, the Palestinian Authority needs to pay the Ungar family
      what they are owed," Weiner said in a statement last week. ''We must
      make sure this ruling is enforced to make sure that there is

      Palestinians say that Strachman is going after the very funds that
      have recently been made public in celebrated reforms meant to curb
      corruption and terrorism funding. But Strachman and his legal team
      say they should stop making excuses and pay.

      ''We're looking for money," said Robert Tolchin, a New York-based
      lawyer working with Strachman. ''If you create a cost for doing
      wrong, people will be motivated to stop doing wrong."

      © Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.



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