In a rare punitive move against Israel, the State Department said Tuesday it will impose travel bans on extremist Jewish settlers implicated in a rash of recent attacks on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the step after warning Israel last week that President Joe Biden's administration would be taking action over the attacks. Blinken did not announce individual visa bans, but department spokesman Matthew Miller said the bans would be implemented starting Tuesday and would cover “dozens” of settlers and their families, with more to come if the settler violence continued. He wouldn’t give a number and refused to identify any of those targeted due to confidentiality reasons.
The decision comes at a sensitive moment in U.S.-Israeli relations. The Biden administration has firmly backed Israel since it was attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7, even as international criticism of Israel has mounted.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington declined to comment on the development.
In recent weeks, the administration has stepped up calls on Israel to do more to limit civilian casualties as the Israelis expand their offensive and target densely populated southern Gaza. The U.S. has refrained from outright criticism of that offensive. It has been increasingly outspoken, however, about settler violence in the West Bank and Israel’s failure to respond to U.S. calls to stop it.
“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,” Blinken said in a statement. “As President Biden has repeatedly said, those attacks are unacceptable.”
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Monday that since Oct. 7 at least eight Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed by settlers. The U.N. agency said it has recorded 314 attacks by settlers that have resulted in Palestinian casualties, damage to Palestinian-owned property or both. One-third of the attacks included threats with firearms, including shootings, and in nearly half of the attacks the settlers were accompanied or actively supported by Israeli forces.
“Today, the State Department is implementing a new visa restriction policy targeting individuals believed to 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.
He said the U.S. would continue to seek accountability for settler violence against Palestinians as well as Palestinian attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and Israel, particularly as tensions are extremely high due to the conflict in Gaza.
“Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have the responsibility to uphold stability in the West Bank,” Blinken said. “Instability in the West Bank both harms the Israeli and Palestinian people and threatens Israel’s national security interests.”
Tuesday's move comes just a month after Israel was granted entry into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows its citizens visa-free entry into the U.S. Those targeted by the action will not be eligible for the program, and those who hold current U.S. visas will have them revoked.
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