US President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Thursday targeting Israeli West Bank settlers who have attacked Palestinians in the occupied territory, imposing financial sanctions and visa bans initially against four individuals.
These settlers have been involved in acts of violence, as well as threats and attempts to destroy or seize Palestinian property, according to order. The sanctions are intended to prevent these four individuals from using the U.S. financial system and to prevent U.S. citizens from dealing with them.
U.S. officials said they were weighing whether to punish others involved in attacks that have escalated during the current war between Israel and Hamas.
The order also notes that settler violence undermines U.S. foreign policy goals, “including the viability of a two-state solution and ensuring that Israelis and Palestinians can achieve equal measures of security, prosperity and freedom.
U.S. officials said the Israeli government was informed in advance of the sanctions. White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Ron Dermer, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs, at the White House on Wednesday.
“This violence poses a serious threat to peace, security, and stability in the West Bank, Israel, and the Middle East region, and threatens the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States,” he said. Sullivan said in a statement.
The order will give the Treasury Department the authority to impose financial sanctions on settlers involved in violence, but it is not intended to target U.S. citizens. A significant number of West Bank settlers hold U.S. citizenship and would be prohibited under U.S. law from conducting transactions with sanctioned individuals.
The State Department announced in December that it would impose travel bans on extremist Jewish settlers involved in a series of recent attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank.
Concerns about US support
Since the 1967 Middle East war, Israel has occupied the West Bank, which Palestinians want to see as the heart of an independent state. He built Jewish settlements there that most countries consider illegal.
Israel on Thursday described the vast majority of West Bank settlers as “law-abiding.”
“Israel takes action against all violators everywhere and therefore there is no need to take unusual measures on this issue,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
Biden faces growing criticism for his administration’s strong support for Israel as casualties mount in the conflict, which began when Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, carried out attacks in Israel on October 7 that, according to Israeli officials, killed around 1,200 people. . Following Israeli military retaliation, more than 25,000 Palestinians have died in Gaza, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Around 380 Palestinians were also killed and 4,200 injured by Israeli forces in the West Bank, according to figures released this week by the Palestinian Health Ministry.
Biden’s order is a rare step against America’s closest ally in the Middle East, which he says has the right to defend itself. But the Democratic president urged Netanyahu’s government to show more restraint in its military operations aimed at eradicating Hamas.
Biden spoke out against retaliatory attacks by Israeli settlers and promised that those responsible for the violence would be held accountable. He said in late October that violence by “extremist settlers” amounted to “pouring gasoline” on the already burning fires in the Middle East.
“This has to stop. They have to be held accountable. This has to stop now,” Biden said.
U.S. lawmakers focused on the role of Americans or dual citizens in settler violence and intimidation.
In a letter last month, Senator Ben Cardin, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called on the White House to take action against any American citizens involved in attacks against Palestinians.
“There must be a strong message against the extreme activities carried out by some settlers in the West Bank, endangering the lives of Palestinians as well as peace in the region,” Cardin told reporters on Thursday.
Biden administration officials have said there are no plans to penalize far-right Israeli ministers who have defended Israeli settler violence and called for settlement expansion.
The new executive order comes as Biden was scheduled to visit Michigan, a key presidential battleground state with the largest Arab American population of any state.
The democratic president has been heavily criticized by Arab and Muslim leaders for his handling of the war with Hamas, and some of his speeches have been interrupted by protesters.
Last week, the president’s campaign manager, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, visited suburban Detroit and found that a number of community leaders were reluctant to meet with her.