(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden signed an executive order Thursday allowing the US to impose more sanctions on Israeli settlers — and possibly government officials — involved in violence against Palestinians.
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The order marks one of the most stringent punishments the US has ever imposed on people deemed responsible for settler violence in the West Bank, which Palestinians claim as part of a future state. Reprisals on Palestinian civilians in the aftermath of Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre threaten to further destabilize the region.
Biden signed the policy before traveling to Michigan, a battleground state that Arab and Muslim voters helped deliver for him in 2020 but where anger about his Israel policy threatens his chances of winning again in November.
In the order, Biden said the “high levels of extremist settler violence” had reached “intolerable levels and constitutes a serious threat to the peace, security, and stability of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel, and the broader Middle East region.”
The order gives the federal government power to sanction foreign nationals involved in directing or participating in intimidation, terrorism, threats of violence against civilians, or the destruction or seizure of property.
The State Department announced the first round of sanctions Thursday against four individuals who it said were directly involved in attacks against Palestinians and in efforts that led to the forced displacement of Palestinian communities.
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The sanctions freeze any US assets or property belonging to those people and ban Americans from doing business with or transferring money to them. The individuals are also barred from entering the US.
“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,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Thursday in a statement.
Those objectives include preserving the possibility of a two-state solution following the Israel-Hamas war, Biden said in the order.
The executive order applies to Israelis and Palestinians alike — whether they are civilians or politicians — who are found to be undermining stability, a senior administration official said. No government officials are being targeted by sanctions at this time, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The UN’s humanitarian office found that Israeli settlers have carried out almost 500 attacks on Palestinians since the deadly invasion by Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the US and the European Union. Eight Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and 116 more wounded, the office reported Wednesday.
“Israel acts against all Israelis who break the law, everywhere; therefore, exceptional measures are unnecessary,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement, adding the “overwhelming majority” of Jewish residents of the West Bank “are law-abiding citizens.”
The Israeli government was notified of the plans for the executive order ahead of time, the senior administration official said.
Biden and top administration officials have repeatedly raised the issue with their counterparts, including in a December phone call between the president and Netanyahu. Biden has publicly called the prime minister’s government “the most conservative” in Israel’s history and said it must change to keep global support.
Sullivan first ordered Cabinet departments in November to develop policy options intended to curb settler violence. The State Department took the first step in December, announcing it would deny visas to Israeli settlers involved in the attacks.
--With assistance from Justin Sink and Michelle Jamrisko.
(Updates to add statement from Netanyahu’s office in 12th paragraph)
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