The United States has imposed travel sanctions against several dozen extremist Israeli settlers who have targeted Palestinian residents in the West Bank, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Tuesday. The measure, which also affects Palestinians who have attacked Israelis in the occupied territory, is a sign of the White House's unease with the escalating violence in the area and with what it perceives as the right-wing Israeli government's lack of interest in curbing it.
Washington will prohibit entry into its territory of those who have "committed acts of violence" or undertaken acts that "unduly impede civilians' access to essential services or basic needs." Their family members "may also be subject to these restrictions," the State Department statement said. The institution has not made public the names of those affected.
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The sanctions will come into force immediately, US diplomatic spokesman Matthew Miller confirmed at a daily press briefing. Those punished who had valid visas to travel to the United States will receive a notification to let them know that their permits have been canceled.
The ban does not affect Israeli settlers with dual U.S. citizenship. Approximately 15% of these residents have U.S. passports and, as citizens, do not need a visa to enter the United States.
It is the first time since Bill Clinton's term (1993-2001) that Washington has taken punitive measures against settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The United States "will continue to seek accountability for all acts of violence against civilians in the West Bank, regardless of who is responsible or the victim," the secretary of state said. "The U.S. has consistently opposed acts that undermine stability in the West Bank, including attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, and by Palestinians against Israelis," it adds.
That the United States was considering the imposition of sanctions is something that had already been advanced by President Joe Biden himself, who in various speeches had expressed his concern about the increase in violence in the West Bank. In an op-ed published two weeks ago in The Washington Post, the occupant of the White House had already warned that travel restrictions would be imposed on those responsible for violence that the State Department describes as "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 the violence of "settler groups in the West Bank against Palestinian populations, especially the attack that occurred on Sunday in Qarawat Babi Hassan, in the presence of the Israeli army, in the course of 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."
Such attacks, which had already been on the rise over the past three years in parallel with the Israeli government's far-right turn, have doubled since the start of the Israel-Gaza war two months ago, according to U.N. figures. The Palestinian authorities report that 260 Palestinians have been killed in this violence. It has also led to "the displacement of entire communities," Miller said Tuesday.
The United States demands that Israel take decisive measures to stop the perpetrators of this violence against the Palestinians, and believes that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far shown little interest in preventing it. It is something that Blinken himself raised with the Israeli authorities during his visit to that country last week, the third since the beginning of the crisis.
Israel "needs to do more to hold accountable the extremists who have perpetrated violent attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank. President Joe Biden has repeatedly stressed that such attacks are unacceptable." The secretary of state recalls that he had already made it clear to the authorities of that country, during his visit last week to the region, that "the United States is willing to take measures within our own competences" to stop this violence.
"We will continue to be in contact with the Israeli authorities to make clear that Israel must take additional measures to protect Palestinian civilians from extremist attacks. We will also continue to engage with the Palestinian Authority to make clear that it must do more to prevent Palestinian attacks on Israelis," Blinken said.
The statement notes that "both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have a responsibility to safeguard stability in the West Bank. Instability there harms Israelis and Palestinians, and threatens Israel's national security interests. Those responsible must be held accountable."
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