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May 22, 2024

Biden Issues Sanctions Against Israeli Settlers for Violence Against Palestinians

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Feb 2, 2024

President Joe Biden on Thursday signed an executive order authorizing sanctions and travel restrictions against four Israeli settlers accused of violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. The move marks a sharp escalation in U.S. actions toward Israel over settlement activity.

Background Leading Up to the Sanctions

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been simmering for decades over the contested land in the West Bank, territory captured by Israel during the 1967 Mideast war. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers now live in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, areas claimed by the Palestinians for a future independent state.

The Biden administration has repeatedly criticized settlement construction, saying it hinders eventual negotiations for a peace deal establishing an independent Palestinian state. But it has failed to take any action against the settlements until now.

Violence between Israeli settlers and Palestinians has also been on the rise in recent years. Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians is on the rise across the West Bank, according to data compiled by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Most documented incidents have targeted Palestinian property, primarily olive trees. But the number of violent attacks on Palestinians themselves also increased in 2022.

Details of Biden’s Executive Order and Sanctions

In his executive order, Biden said the settlers represent an extremist fringe of the Israeli settler community who directly threaten the safety and security of the Palestinian people. The four men he sanctioned are Israeli nationals living in major illegal outposts near Palestinian villages in the West Bank.

Biden accused them of being involved in recent attacks on Palestinians, including one near the city of Nablus in the northern West Bank in which settlers opened fire on Palestinians, killing one and injuring several others.

The executive order allows the Treasury and State Departments to impose sanctions and travel bans on those who commit violence or incite others to violence against Palestinians based in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. The Biden administration says it will add more people to the list as warranted.

Under Thursday’s order, all property and interests in property belonging to the four men within U.S. jurisdiction will be blocked. Americans will be barred from engaging in any transactions with them. They will also face visa restrictions, with some exceptions for humanitarian and possibly government activities.

“My administration will not shy away from protecting and promoting human rights around the world,” Biden said in a statement announcing the sanctions. He said the U.S. rejects violence as a legitimate tool for pursuing policy goals and will confront violations of human rights.

Israeli officials had no immediate public comment on Biden’s order. Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Israeli settler leaders reacted with defiance, accusing Biden of siding with Israel’s enemies. Oded Revivi, mayor of Efrat settlements, said settlers will continue building settlements. “As opposed to unprecedented threats, we will respond with unprecedented construction,” Revivi said.

Far-right Israeli parliament member Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism party, called Biden’s order “anti-Semitic” on Twitter. Another parliament member, Miki Zohar of Likud, said Biden was trying to “take advantage of the Israeli political crisis to advance his hostile policies and promote Palestinians’ anti-Israel moves.”

World Reaction

Leaders of the U.N, E.U, and several Arab states expressed support for Biden’s actions, calling them a “step in the right direction” but said more action is still needed to curb violence and settlement expansion.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Biden’s order reflects longtime U.N. concerns over the growth of settlements. He urged Israel and the Palestinians to refrain from unilateral actions and get back to the negotiating table.

The E.U. foreign policy chief said the European Union stands ready to follow up on Biden’s executive order with its own measures targeting settlers, including trade restrictions on settlement products.

Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia urged the U.S. and international community to put more pressure on Israel over illegal settlements and back the long-dormant peace process.

Several members of the U.S. Congress applauded Biden’s sanctions. Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “The targeting of extremist settlers who carry out acts of violence against Palestinians is a pragmatic step by the Biden administration.”

However, a group of House Republicans slammed Biden’s order as “appeasing terrorists” and warned of a breakdown in U.S.-Israel relations. “This Executive Order against Israelis weakens our ally and emboldens our enemy,” they said in a joint statement.

What Comes Next

Additional U.S. measures targeting Israeli settlements could loom on the horizon.

Administration officials say Biden may decline to renew a 35-year-old agreement smoothing the way for Israeli and U.S. research cooperation because Israel will not engage on restrictions over Chinese and Iranian participation. Israel is also bracing for potential restrictions on some U.S. military aid and high-tech exports.

Palestinian officials hinted they may press harder for Security Council action against Israel over illegal settlements in the West Bank in light of Biden’s sanctions. This could include pushing for economic sanctions and an outright ban on settlement products. However, the U.S. will likely block any such moves.

Some analysts predict Biden’s actions could negatively impact Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election bid. Netanyahu is currently struggling to form Israel’s next government after recently winning a close parliamentary election. His opponents may use Biden’s sanctions to portray Netanyahu as worsening tensions with Israel’s closest international ally.

Overall, Biden’s unprecedented sanctions have sent ripples through both Israeli and Palestinian societies. Palestinians now feel emboldened to demand more international pressure on Israel. While the Israeli right sees Biden as overly sympathetic to Palestinian complaints, the Israeli left views Biden’s targeting of violent settlers as a proper response. Where things go from here remains uncertain. But what is clear is that Biden has taken direct aim at Israeli settlement enterprise like no previous president.

Tables

U.S. Aid to Israel Amount
Military Aid $3.8 billion per year
Migration & Refugee Assistance $219 million total since 1973
Anti-Terrorism Assistance $147 million total since 1987
Major Illegal Israeli Settlements in the West Bank Population Estimate
Bruchin 550 residents
Amona 60 families
Migron over 300 people
Violent Israeli Settlers Sanctioned by Biden Executive Order Details
Hillel Ben Eliyahu Leads violent hilltop youth gang based in Yitzhar settlement
Moshe Orbach Prominent activist who helped establish Homesh settlement outpost
Michael Ben Eliyahu Son of Hillel Ben Eliyahu accused of shooting at Palestinians near Nablus
David HaCohen Leader of masked settler gang carrying out raids on Palestinian villages
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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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