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Biden imposes sanctions over ‘intolerable’ Israeli settler violence

Israeli security forces deploy while clashing with Palestinians during the funeral of 19-year-old Labib Damidi, who was shot dead by settlers in the occupied West Bank town of Huwara on October 6, 2023
Israeli security forces deploy while clashing with Palestinians during the funeral of 19-year-old Labib Damidi, who was shot dead by settlers in the occupied West Bank town of Huwara on October 6, 2023 - Copyright AFP/File Jaafar ASHTIYEH
Israeli security forces deploy while clashing with Palestinians during the funeral of 19-year-old Labib Damidi, who was shot dead by settlers in the occupied West Bank town of Huwara on October 6, 2023 - Copyright AFP/File Jaafar ASHTIYEH
Shaun TANDON

The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on a handful of Jewish settlers as President Joe Biden said the level of violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank had reached intolerable levels.

The sanctions marked a rare move by the United States against Israelis as war rages with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and came as Biden traveled to Michigan, whose sizable Arab American community has voiced anger over his support for Israel.

Biden issued an executive order laying out the groundwork for US measures in response to attacks and “acts of terrorism” in the West Bank, where settlers have rampaged against Palestinians amid the separate military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

“The situation in the West Bank — in particular high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages, and property destruction — has reached intolerable levels and constitutes a serious threat to the peace, security and stability,” Biden said in the order.

The administration was expected later in the day to announce initial sanctions against four people.

Under the sanctions, any assets they hold in the United States will be blocked, with Americans forbidden from financial transactions with them. 

The action marks the first financial sanctions against settlers although the Biden administration earlier announced that it would refuse visas for extremists involved in violence.

Biden has defended Israel’s right to respond, and resisted calls to seek a ceasefire, after the Hamas attack inside Israel on October 7 killed around 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Biden, however, has also voiced exasperation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the high toll on civilians as Israel pounds the Gaza Strip with a stated goal of eradicating Hamas.

At least 26,900 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, have been killed, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Arab Americans largely backed Biden as he defeated Trump in 2020 and, while a small part of the national population, they could swing the election in Michigan, which is critical for the Democratic president’s success in an expected rematch against Trump in November.

The mayor of one Detroit suburb is refusing to see Biden on his trip due to his refusal to press Israel to end the military campaign.

– Most violent year on record –

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.

“This violence poses a grave threat to peace, security and stability in the West Bank, Israel, and the Middle East region, and threatens the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States,” said Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor.

US officials insist that Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is heading shortly on a new trip to the Middle East, have consistently raised the alarm.

About 490,000 settlers live among approximately three million Palestinians in the West Bank, in settlements that are considered illegal under international law.

Biden has largely returned to historic US opposition to the settlements after Trump switched gears and declined to criticize the outposts, with his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, visiting a settlement late in his term.

The Biden administration is also renewing calls for the creation of a Palestinian state, an idea strongly opposed by Netanyahu’s far-right government.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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