WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The Biden administration on Thursday imposed sanctions on four Israeli men it accused of being involved in settler violence in the West Bank, signaling growing U.S. displeasure with the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Thursday that aims to punish ill-behaved Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians envisage a future state.
The order establishes a system for imposing financial sanctions and visa restrictions against individuals who attack or intimidate Palestinians or seize 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.
The State Department sanctions, freezing the U.S. assets of the four men and generally barring Americans from dealing with them, are the latest since Palestinian Hamas militants on Oct. 7 carried out an attack on Israel and Israel responded with an assault on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
In December, the United States began imposing visa bans on people involved in violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
A State Department statement on Thursday said:
* David Chai Chasdai initiated and led a riot that included setting vehicles and buildings on fire and causing damage to property in Huwara, resulting in the death of a Palestinian civilian.
* Einan Tanjil assaulted Palestinian farmers and Israeli activists by attacking them with stones and clubs, resulting in injuries that required medical treatment.
* Shalom Zicherman, according to video evidence, assaulted Israeli activists and their vehicles in the West Bank, blocking them on the street, attempted to break the windows of passing vehicles with activists inside, and cornered at least two of the activists and injured both.
* Yinon Levi led a group of settlers that assaulted Palestinian and Bedouin civilians, burned their fields and destroyed their property.
“Israel must do more to stop violence against civilians in the West Bank and hold accountable those responsible for it,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a separate statement.
“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.”
Biden and other senior U.S. officials have warned repeatedly that Israel must act to stop violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank.
Biden has raised the issue directly with Netanyahu, said one senior official, as Biden seeks a path to a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians once the Gaza conflict ends.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said U.S. officials had presented documented cases of settler violence to Israeli counterparts and in some cases Israel had taken action.
The levels of settler violence in the West Bank have come down in the past roughly two months since those interventions, Miller said at a press briefing.
Three of the four men hit with sanctions had been prosecuted by Israel, he added.
Miller said Thursday’s order was targeted at foreign nationals, but he did not rule out further U.S. action against the many Jewish settlers who hold U.S. citizenship.
“You should not conclude that we are done,” he said.Netanyahu, who heads a religious-rightist coalition, has resisted U.S. entreaties to develop a plan for post-conflict Gaza and to embrace a peace deal that envisages Israeli and Palestinian states side by side.
His office on Thursday responded to the U.S. measures by saying they were unnecessary.
“Israel takes action against all law-breakers everywhere, and therefore there is no need for unusual measures on the issue,” it said in a statement.
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right pro-settlement party Religious Zionism, was defiant in a statement on the Biden order, saying:
“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,” Smotrich said.
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. It has built Jewish settlements there that most countries deem illegal. Israel disputes this and cites historical and biblical ties to the land.
Hamas fighters killed 1,200 people and captured 253 hostages on Oct. 7, precipitating an Israeli offensive that has laid waste to much of Gaza. Health officials in the enclave said on Thursday the confirmed death toll had risen above 27,000, with thousands more dead still lying under the rubble.