A partial fix to the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (ATCA) was enacted as part of the 2020 omnibus budget legislation, signed into law in December 2019. The amended language, included as Section 903 of the 2020 federal spending bill, strips out the foreign assistance triggers that caused the abrupt closure of humanitarian aid, peacebuilding, human rights and other programs in Palestine.
Signed into law in late 2018, ATCA is intended to allow victims of terrorism to sue foreign entities that accept U.S. foreign assistance or maintain a headquarters in the U.S. Fearing exposure to liability, the Palestinian Authority announced it would reject further U.S. funding,with the result that all U.S. aid programs in Palestine ceased.
Senate Resolution Called for Release of Aid Funds for Palestinian Civilians
Over the course of many months, nonprofits lobbied for a fix to the unintended consequences of ATCA. In April, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced Senate Resolution 171 calling on the administration to restore U.S. assistance to civilians in the West Bank and Gaza. Joined by five co-sponsors, S Res 171 also calls on Congress to clarify provisions of the ATCA so that acceptance of funds for food and essential humanitarian services could not be used to trigger jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority for ATCA lawsuits in U.S. courts. A statement from 18 organizations, including the Charity & Security Network, supports the resolution and release of the funds.
A statement from Sen. Merkeley notes that the resolution is necessary because the Trump administration has frozen spending of funds appropriated by Congress for aid to Palestinians. In January 2018, the administration undertook a review of the funding, including security assistance and Economic Support Funds (humanitarian assistance distributed by NGOs). In July 2018 the administration redirected FY 2017 funds to other countries and FY 2018 funds remain frozen. S Res. 171 calls for release of the funds by the end of 2019. $196,500,000 in FY 2018 Economic Support Funds are at stake.
S. Res. 171 also addresses additional problems created by ATCA. Under the policy proposed by S. Res. 171, Congress would amend ATCA to clarify that Economic Support Fund acceptance of funds for programs that comply with the Taylor Force Act (prohibiting support for those convicted of terrorism offenses and their families) will not be a basis for jurisdiction in U.S. courts.
The co-sponsors of S. Res. 171 are Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Catherin Cortez-Masto (D-NV) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA).
Nonprofits supporting the resolution include the Alliance for Peacebuilding, InterAction, Catholic Relief Services, Charity & Security Network, Mercy Corps and many faith-based organizations.
Section 903(c) of the 2020 appropriations law removes the foreign assistance triggers for U.S. jurisdiction from the Act. The law continues to subject to U.S. jurisdiction anyone making a payment to a convicted terrorist or their family member, anyone who maintains an office or headquarters in the U.S. (with certain exceptions, including offices maintained for the purposes of conducting business with the United Nations), or anyone who conducts activity in the U.S. on behalf of the Palestinian Liberation Organization or the Palestinian Authority. The new language further clarifies that except with respect to payments described above (those to convicted terrorists or their families), “no court may consider the receipt of any assistance by a nongovernmental organization, whether direct or indirect, as a basis for consent to jurisdiction by a defendant.”