The United States has implemented a new visa restriction policy against several dozen extremist Israeli settlers who have attacked Palestinian residents in the West Bank, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Tuesday. The move, which also affects Palestinians who have attacked Israelis in the occupied territory, is a sign of the White House’s unease over the escalating violence in the area and what it perceives as the right-wing Israeli government’s disinterest in curbing it.
Washington will prohibit entry into its territory to those who have “been involved in undermining peace, security, or stability in the West Bank, including through committing acts of violence or taking other actions that unduly restrict civilians’ access to essential services and basic necessities,” Blinken said. “Immediate family members of such persons also may be subject to these restrictions,” he added. The State Department did not make public the names of those who will be sanctioned.
The restrictions will go into effect immediately, U.S. diplomatic spokesman Matthew Miller confirmed at a daily press briefing. Those sanctioned who had valid visas to travel to the United States will receive a notification that their permits have been cancelled.
The ban does not affect Israeli settlers with dual U.S. citizenship. Approximately 15% of the total number of these settlers hold U.S. passports and, as citizens, do not require visas to enter the United States.
This is the first time since Bill Clinton’s term in office (1993-2001) that Washington has taken punitive measures against settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The U.S. “will continue to seek accountability for all acts of violence against civilians in the West Bank, regardless of the perpetrator or the victim,” Blinken added. “We also continue to engage with the Israeli leadership to make clear that Israel must take additional measures to protect Palestinian civilians from extremist attacks.”
That the United States was considering the imposition of sanctions had already been anticipated by President Joe Biden himself, who in several speeches had expressed his concern about the increase in violence in the West Bank. In an article published two weeks ago in The Washington Post, the president had already warned that travel restrictions would be imposed on those responsible for violence in the Palestinian territory, which the State Department describes as being at “levels not seen since the Second Intifada” between 2000 and 2005.
Washington fears that the escalation of violence could lead to the creation of another front in the war between Israel and Hamas and expand the current conflict in Gaza to other parts of the Middle East. It is a concern shared by other governments: France on Tuesday issued a condemnation of violence by “groups of settlers in the West Bank [against] Palestinians, particularly the attack in Qarawat Bani Hassan on Sunday, in the presence of the Israeli armed forces, during which a Palestinian was killed.” Paris has demanded that Israel “immediately take the necessary measures to stop these unacceptable attacks and protect civilian populations, in accordance with its responsibilities as the occupying power in the West Bank.”
These attacks — which had already been on the rise over the past three years as a result of the Israeli government’s shift to the extreme right — have doubled since the start of the Israel-Hamas war two months ago, according to U.N. figures. This has led to 260 Palestinians being killed in the West Bank, according to Palestinian authorities. The violence has also caused “the displacement of entire communities,” Miller said Tuesday.
The United States is demanding that Israel take significant measures to stop the perpetrators of this violence against Palestinians, and considers that so far the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not shown much interest in preventing it. This is something Blinken himself raised with Israeli authorities during his visit to Israel last week, the third since the beginning of the crisis.
“We have underscored to the Israeli government the need to do more to hold accountable extremist settlers who have committed violent attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank. As President Biden has repeatedly said, those attacks are unacceptable,” the Secretary of State stressed. “Last week in Israel, I made clear that the United States is ready to take action using our own authorities,” Blinken added in Tuesday’s statement.
“We will also continue to engage the Palestinian Authority to make clear it must do more to curb Palestinian attacks against Israelis. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have the responsibility to uphold stability in the West Bank. Instability in the West Bank both harms the Israeli and Palestinian people and threatens Israel’s national security interests. Those responsible for it must be held accountable,” Blinken sentenced.
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