Biden issues order targeting Israeli settlers in the West Bank

The order applies sanctions against individuals involved in violent acts against the Palestinians.

Following a deadly Hamas attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7 and the subsequent Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Thursday that targets Jewish settlers who assault or harass Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

The order sets up a mechanism for applying financial sanctions and visa bans to individuals who are responsible for attacking or threatening Palestinians or confiscating their property, according to a statement by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

“Today’s actions seek to promote peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” he said.

The number of daily settler attacks has more than doubled in the past four months since the Hamas attack and the Israeli offensive on Gaza, according to United Nations data.

The order blocks any U.S. assets of those affected and generally prohibits Americans from doing business with them. The State Department also planned to announce the first four individuals affected by the order on Thursday, two senior Biden administration officials said to reporters.

Biden and other top U.S. officials have repeatedly urged Israel to take action to prevent violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank.

“These actions pose a grave threat to peace, security, stability in the West Bank, Israel and the Middle East region, and they also obstruct the realization of ultimately an independent Palestinian state existing side by side with the state of Israel,” one of the senior officials said.

Biden has discussed the issue directly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the official said, as Biden seeks a way to a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians once the Gaza conflict ends.

The West Bank, one of the territories where Palestinians want statehood along with Gaza, has witnessed a rise of violence in recent months amid growing Jewish settlements and a nearly decade-old stalemate in U.S.-backed peace talks.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the far-right pro-settlement party Religious Zionism, rejected the Biden order in a statement:

“The ‘settler violence’ campaign is an antisemitic lie that enemies of Israel disseminate with the goal of smearing the pioneering settlers and settlement enterprise, and to harm them and thus smear the entire State of Israel,” Smotrich said.

In December, the United States started imposing visa restrictions on people involved in violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israel has occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River since the 1967 Middle East war, which Palestinians want as the core of an independent state. It has built Jewish settlements there that most countries consider illegal. Israel disputes this and cites historical and biblical ties to the land.

An Israeli government spokesman said in December that the country condemns any vigilantism or hooliganism or attempts by individuals to take the law into their own hands.

Hamas fighters killed 1,200 people and captured 253 hostages on Oct. 7, triggering an Israeli offensive that has devastated much of Gaza. Health officials in the enclave said on Thursday the confirmed death toll had risen above 27,000, with thousands more dead still lying under the rubble.

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