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War on Gaza: Biden issues sanctions on Israeli settlers that attack Palestinians in West Bank

Sanctions will apply to four individuals, and American settlers will not be targeted, US officials say
Israeli soldiers restrain settlers trying to storm the town of Deir Sharaf in the Nablus governorate of the occupied West Bank on 2 November 2023.
Israeli soldiers restrain settlers trying to storm town of Deir Sharaf in Nablus in occupied West Bank, on 2 November 2023 (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

US President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Thursday that imposes targeted sanctions on Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Based on the order, the administration will also specifically sanction four Israeli settlers who engaged in violent activity against Palestinians, including an incident where settlers set fire to cars in an attack that killed one Palestinian civilian.

In a press call with reporters on Thursday, a senior US official said the move is being taken to curb the surge in violence in the occupied West Bank since the war in Gaza began on 7 October.

"All property and interest in property in the United States of those individuals will be blocked," one US official said during the call.

The official added that the executive order will also bar Americans from "making any contribution or provision of funds" to the sanctioned individuals.

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"Additionally, the entry of the designated individuals under this EO will be blocked from the United States," the official said.

While the four individuals facing sanctions on Thursday are Israeli, a White House official said that the executive order will apply to Palestinians as well.

"I would just emphasise also this EO is nondiscriminatory. It applies to Israelis and Palestinians alike. It applies to foreign nationals and those who are engaged in acts of violence in the West Bank," the official said.

"We continue to go after, through sanctions and other means, designated terrorist groups whether [in] Gaza, the West Bank, or throughout the region."

Axios reported earlier on Thursday that the Biden administration was also considering including the two Israeli ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich on this list of sanctioned individuals, but ultimately decided against it. A US official denied this report during the press call.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried the executive order, describing the majority of Israeli settlers in the West Bank as "law-abiding".

"Israel takes action against all law-breakers everywhere, and therefore there is no need for unusual measures on the issue," Netanyahu said in a statement issued by his office.

All Israeli settlements and outposts in the West Bank are considered illegal under international law according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bans occupying powers from settling in the area it occupies.

Doesn't apply to American Israeli settlers

While most of the world's attention on Israel and Palestine has been focused on the war in Gaza, Israeli forces and settlers have been launching near-daily attacks on Palestinians across the occupied West Bank.

More than 360 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since last October, according to the Palestinian health ministry. 

And since Hamas's attack on southern Israel on 7 October, the number of attacks on Palestinians by Israeli security forces and settlers in the West Bank has risen to the highest level in decades.

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In December, the Biden administration announced it would start imposing visa bans on individuals engaging in violent activities in the West Bank.

That same month, several American news outlets reported that the US would be delaying a shipment of M-16 rifles to Israel over concerns that they would be used to arm Israeli settlers in the West Bank.

Senior right-wing Israeli officials, military security coordinators, and settlers have been campaigning for more security measures in the West Bank.

Last week, Haaretz reported that Israel's military is considering supplying anti-tank missiles to civilian security squads in isolated West Bank settlements near Palestinian villages.

A US official said that Thursday's executive order will not apply to American citizens, another loophole for the tens of thousands of US citizens who have become Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The visa ban announced in December also does not apply to US citizens.

Some of these Israeli-American settlers have been leading the rise in settler violence against Palestinians.

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