US judge allows lawsuit challenging aid to West Bank and Gaza to proceed

Trucks carrying aid line up near the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip
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By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) - A federal judge in Texas has rejected the Biden administration's bid to dismiss a lawsuit by a Republican congressman and three others seeking to block U.S. aid to the West Bank and Gaza that they say is unlawfully funding the Palestinian Authority.

The lawsuit was filed in 2022, well before the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants - who run the Gaza Strip - into southern Israel precipitated a war and does not target funding that would benefit Hamas. Instead, it takes aim at funding the lawsuit says could help the Palestinian Authority that exercises limited self-rule in some areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The U.S. Department of Justice had urged U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in Amarillo to conclude that Representative Ronny Jackson, a Republican from Texas, and three other people who regularly visit Israel could not sue to challenge the foreign aid.

The Justice Department argued that the plaintiffs, represented by America Legal First, a legal group founded by former Trump White House adviser Stephen Miller, lacked legal standing to sue because their claims of an increased risk of harm were "wholly conjectural."

It also argued any risk of future harm was due to actions by others besides the U.S. government, such as overseas militants, and contended that dismissal was warranted to avoid entangling the courts in a high-level foreign policy matter.

But Kacsmaryk, an appointee of Republican former President Donald Trump, on Friday ruled that the individuals had demonstrated a "legitimate and warranted" fear of harm if the funding continues, which "recent world events further substantiate."

Kacsmaryk pointed to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants in Israel that killed around 1,200 people as evidence for why their fears were legitimate when they first sued in 2022.

The ruling will allow the lawsuit to move forward to the next stage.

Jackson in a statement on Monday said the decision "puts us one step closer to holding the administration accountable for its illegal funding of terrorism with American taxpayer dollars."

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Kacsmaryk, whose court is a favored venue for conservative litigants challenging government policies, gained national attention last year when he suspended approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the pill to remain on the market while appeals proceed.

The lawsuit centers on the Taylor Force Act, which was named after a 28-year-old American military veteran who was fatally stabbed by a Palestinian while visiting Israel in 2017. His parents are among the plaintiffs.

Congress enacted the law in 2018 to stop the Palestinian Authority from paying stipends to family members of militants killed or imprisoned by Israeli authorities.

The law bars the U.S. government from providing economic aid that would directly benefit the Palestinian Authority until it stops paying stipends.

The Biden administration said the law does not bar so-called economic support funds for the West Bank and Gaza but only restricted how money was spent. In the 2023 fiscal year, Congress provided $225 million for such aid.

But the lawsuit alleges that the administration is "unlawfully laundering U.S. taxpayer funds" by providing aid to non-governmental organizations that directly benefit the Palestinian Authority in violation of the law.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Deepa Babington)