Israel will seek to exempt itself from paying intifada damages

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JERUSALEM — The Israeli government will seek a law exempting the state from responsibility in almost all cases of damage suffered by Palestinians during the intifada.

Israeli officials said Wednesday that Prime Minister Shimon Peres met with the justice and finance ministers to discuss providing compensation to Palestinians for injuries suffered during the intifada, the 1987-1993 Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule in the territories.

Damage suits pending in the Israeli court system that are related to the intifada are estimated to total hundreds of millions of dollars.

At Wednesday's meeting, Peres and the ministers reportedly agreed to seek legislation in the Knesset giving Israel blanket immunity to the suits.

But they reportedly accepted a compromise proposal by Justice Minister David Libai to establish a committee that would deal with what were termed "exceptional cases."

Earlier in the week, Peres said Israel should not be responsible for compensation because he felt that the damages suffered by Palestinians stemmed from what were essentially acts of war against Israel.

"The intifada was forced upon us," Peres was quoted as saying. "No country in the world has paid damages from such a situation, and we do not have to be the exception."

Peres said that just as Israel has paid damages to Jewish victims of the intifada, the Palestinian Authority should address claims by Arabs.

At the time, Peres voiced his support for Knesset legislation that would bar Palestinians from filing for damages in Israeli courts.

Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair opposed this stand, saying that it might not hold up in the High Court of Justice.

Because Israel controlled the territories during the intifada, it cannot claim that it is not responsible for damages, he said.

Libai reportedly suggested the idea of reviewing "exceptional cases" after Ben-Yair said a total rejection of all compensation claims would not withstand a court challenge.

The government has been pressing to resolve the issue because it is supposed to be included in a bill on implementing the Interim Agreement, the accord signed Sept. 28 in Washington, D.C., for extending Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank.

The government would like the bill approved by the Knesset before the Palestinian elections, which are scheduled for Jan. 20.