The US has imposed sanctions on a handful of extremist Jewish settlers over violence against Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank, in a rare step against Israelis as war rages with Hamas, officials said.
US President Joe Biden’s order establishes a system for imposing financial sanctions and visa restrictions against individuals who are found to have attacked or intimidated Palestinians or seized their property, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
“Today’s actions seek to promote peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” he said.
UN figures show that daily settler attacks have more than doubled in the nearly four months since the Hamas attack and Israel’s ensuing assault and bombardment of Gaza.
The order freezes any US assets of those targeted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.
The State Department also planned to announce the first four individuals hit by the order, two senior Biden administration officials told reporters.
Mr Biden and other senior US officials have warned repeatedly that Israel must act to stop violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the occupied 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 realisation of ultimately an independent Palestinian state existing side-by-side with the state of Israel,” one of the senior officials said.
A senior US official, explaining the new actions, claimed that Mr Biden has consistently raised concern with Israel about violence by settlers.
‘Most violent year on record’
The West Bank, among the territories where Palestinians seek statehood along with Gaza, has experienced a surge of violence in recent months amid expanding Jewish settlements and a nearly decade-old impasse in US-sponsored peace-making.
Israeli settlers killed at least 10 Palestinians and torched dozens of homes in the occupied West Bank in 2023, making it the “most violent” year on record for settler attacks, according to the human rights group Yesh Din.
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right pro-settlement party Religious Zionism, was defiant in a statement against the Biden administration order:
“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,” Mr Smotrich said.
In December, the United States began imposing visa bans on people involved in violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Since the 1967 Middle East war, Israel has occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River, which Palestinians want as the core of an independent state.
About 490,000 settlers live among approximately three million Palestinians in the West Bank, in settlements that are considered illegal under international law.
Israel disputes this and claims 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.