Biden administration sanctions ‘extremist’ Israeli settlers in West Bank
President Joe Biden on Feb. 1, 2024, signed an executive order sanctioning Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Biden is shown speaking in the South Court Auditorium at the White House complex on Feb. 16, 2023. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
President Joe Biden sanctioned four Israeli settlers in the West Bank on Thursday, part of an administration effort to curb civilian casualties in the region as Israel’s war with Hamas continues.
Biden signed an executive order authorizing financial sanctions that can be applied to both Israelis and Palestinians who engage in acts of violence on the West Bank, a Palestinian territory on the Jordan River occupied by Israel. But the first four individuals designated under the order were Israeli settlers accused of violence against Palestinians and Biden made clear “extremist settler violence” motivated the move.
“I have issued an Executive Order declaring a national emergency to deal with the threat posed by the situation in the West Bank, including in particular high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages, and property destruction,” he wrote in a message to Congress accompanying the order.
“Such actions constitute a serious threat to the peace, security, and stability of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel, and the broader Middle East region and undermine the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States,” Biden continued.
The United States supports a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians, which settler activity in the West Bank threatens, he said. Violence in the area also threatens Israeli security and U.S. personnel and interests and could lead to “broader regional destabilization,” he wrote.
Freeze on U.S.-based assets
The order is similar to other sanctions that aim to block access to the U.S. financial system, a senior administration official told reporters Thursday. Two senior administration officials briefed reporters on details of the order Thursday on the condition they not be named.
The order freezes any U.S.-based assets of designated individuals and blocks anyone in the U.S. from sending money or other services to the listed individuals.
An initial State Department list Thursday named four Israeli settlers who were subject to the sanctions.
The State Department accused the individuals of inciting and leading a riot, which caused the death of a Palestinian civilian, assaulting Palestinian farmers and Israeli peace activists, and “creating an atmosphere of fear in the West Bank.”
White House Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to a Biden campaign event in Michigan that the order was part of a longstanding commitment to peace in the region.
“It’s a signal to the whole world how seriously President Biden takes this settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank,” Kirby said, according to audio provided by the White House press pool.
“He’s been very, very clear on that for a long, long time. It’s got to stop. It’s unacceptable. It’s a detriment to peace and security, certainly there in the West Bank and to the Palestinian people in general.”
Israeli government officials were given advance notice of the order, Kirby said. Government officials are not intended targets of sanctions, Kirby said.
Pressure from progressives
The order comes amid pressure from progressive activists for the Biden administration to work to end the war that erupted after the militant group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
While Biden administration officials have affirmed Israel’s right to respond to the attack, they have increasingly demanded more attention to minimizing civilian casualties.
“Israel must do more to stop violence against civilians in the West Bank and hold accountable those responsible for it,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a Thursday news release on the sanctions.
“The United States will continue to take actions to advance the foreign policy objectives of the United States, including the viability of a two-state solution, and is committed to the safety, security, and dignity of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
While the initial targets of the order were Israeli, a senior administration on the press call said the order is “non-discriminatory” and could be applied to “Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
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