WASHINGTON (CN) — A federal judge dismissed a $1 billion lawsuit Tuesday from Palestinians seeking damages for war crimes, ruling that federal court is no place to resolve political questions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The March 2016 lawsuit, which clocked in at 187 pages, alleged “immense loss of life, liberty, and property” over decades, at the hands of the Israeli military and settlers. After boiling the lawsuit down to its core, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan found it was asking the court to determine the legality of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.
She declined the invitation.
“This issue, both close to the heart of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and central to the United States” foreign policy decision-making in the region, is simply inappropriate for this court to resolve,” Chutkan wrote. “Instead, these issues must be decided by the political branches.”
Citing a string of cases dismissed under the political question doctrine, Chutkan found her court lacks jurisdiction over the charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, trespass and other claims under the Alien Tort Statute and Torture Victim Protection Act.
The plaintiffs, led by Palestinian Bassem al-Tamimi and Palestinian-American author Susan Abulhawa, claimed that casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and other big-name defendants collectively supported Israeli settlement growth, to the tune of $1 billion funneled every year through U.S.-based nonprofits.
The Palestinians accused them of channeling money into Israeli settlements under the pretext of charitable donations, violating money laundering laws in the process. The plaintiffs called it a conspiracy to ethnically cleanse the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories of non-Jewish inhabitants, encouraging wholesale violence and arms trafficking by the Israeli military and Israeli settlers.
Chutkan found that judicial consideration of the one case the plaintiffs cited from the D.C. Circuit to get around the political question doctrine — Simon v. Republic of Hungary — had posed no risk of undermining executive branch actions.
That case focused on claims from 14 Jewish Holocaust survivors who alleged that Hungary, a Hungarian railway and an Austrian rail-freight company falsely imprisoned, assaulted and tortured them, and played a key role in Hungary's attempt to exterminate its Jewish population.
That court found that treaties and agreements between the United States and Hungary did not pose a risk that the court's consideration of the case would undermine any executive branch actions, including the negotiated end of World War II.
“The same conclusion cannot be reached here, where the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, including questions of sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, is still very much at the forefront of the Executive’s ongoing diplomatic efforts in the region,” the 23-page ruling states.
In addition to Adelson, the 49 named defendants included former White House national security adviser Elliott Abrams, Cleveland Cavaliers majority owner Daniel Gilbert, megachurch pastor John Hagee, five other people and dozens of corporations, including Remax, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola and Volvo.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Martin McMahon, with Washington-based Martin McMahon & Associates, did not respond to an email seeking comment on the ruling.
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