President Joe Biden on Thursday signed an executive order targeting Israeli settlers who commit violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, the White House announced. The move represents the administration’s strongest action yet to address Israeli-Palestinian tensions that have been rising steadily over the past year.
Order Imposes Sanctions, Visa Restrictions on Settlers
The executive order allows the State and Treasury departments to impose sanctions and visa restrictions on Israeli settlers and their supporters who are responsible for or complicit in settler violence against Palestinians or destroying Palestinian property.^
Specifically, the order names four extremist Israeli settlers who will be subject to financial sanctions and barred from entering the United States:
- Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council
- Zvi Sukkot, member of the Otzma Yehudit political party
- Hillel Horowitz, leader of the Jewish Power militant group
- Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israeli parliament member
The Biden administration has been under pressure from progressive Democrats and human rights groups for months to address the growing crisis of settler violence against Palestinians, which the UN says has reached its highest levels since 2006.^ This executive order is intended to demonstrate concrete action and send a clear message that violent extremism will not be tolerated, according to White House officials.
|Head of Samaria Regional Council
|Member of Otzma Yehudit party
|Leader, Jewish Power militant group
|Member of Israeli Parliament
However, the order has already provoked outrage from right-wing Israeli politicians and settler groups who argue it unfairly targets Jews and constitutes an attack on Israel’s sovereignty. “I have instructed the consul in New York to immediately meet with the President’s advisors and demand the executive order be rescinded,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted shortly after the announcement.^
Escalating Israeli-Palestinian Tensions Prompt Action
Biden’s executive order comes amid an alarming rise in tensions between Israeli settlers and Palestinians over the past year that observers have warned risks erupting into a third intifada, or uprising.
There were over 600 violent attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians documented in the West Bank in 2022 – the highest number ever recorded in a single year.^ These attacks, which are rarely investigated or prosecuted by Israeli authorities, have involved shootings, stabbings, arson and the destruction of olive groves and other Palestinian property.
The violence has occurred against the backdrop of an aggressive expansion of Israeli settlements that top Biden administration officials have called “intolerable.”^ Israeli settlements – considered illegal under international law – already house over 700,000 Jewish Israelis in the West Bank where over 2.8 million Palestinians live under Israeli military occupation. These settlements continue to grow rapidly, fueling resentment among the Palestinian population.
Experts say the violence threatens to further undermine the fading possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization, praised Biden’s order and called for additional steps against settlements. “We urge the international community to build on this executive order with further diplomatic, political and economic consequences on the system of apartheid and colonization targeting the occupied State of Palestine,” Erekat said.^
Order Seen as Warning Shot to Israel’s New Far-Right Government
The executive order is also viewed as a stark warning from the Biden administration to Israel’s new far-right government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Bennett’s ruling coalition relies on the support of Religious Zionist party leader Itamar Ben-Gvir and includes other extremist supporters of settlements for its razor-thin parliamentary majority.
The administration has made clear it has little patience for this government’s policies promoting unchecked settlement growth. Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier condemned Israel’s legalization of nine settlement outposts and warned Israeli officials in private meetings that the U.S. is prepared to take action in response to provocations around settlements.^
A State Department spokesperson emphasized that the executive order “underscores the administration’s consistent opposition to any unilateral measures that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution.” They added that the Biden administration will continue closely monitoring the activities of radical Israeli settlers and is prepared to take further steps to curb violence.^
Observers say the sanctions could be the opening salvo in a pressure campaign to contain the new Israeli government and defend the possibility of eventually creating an independent Palestinian state. “This executive order puts the Israeli government on notice that it cannot pursue permanent occupation and annexation without consequences,” said Dylan Williams of the liberal pro-Israel lobbying group JStreet. “The Biden administration is drawing a line in the sand.”^
The coming months will reveal whether the White House’s warning shot is sufficient to restrain right-wing members of Israel’s ruling coalition, or if further action will be required as the Bennett government pursues its confrontationist agenda on settlements and negotiations with the Palestinians.
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