‘Israel acts against all Israelis who break the law, everywhere; therefore, exceptional measures are unnecessary,’ the Israeli prime minister said.
President Joe Biden issued a new executive order on Thursday directing sanctions against Israeli settlers accused of fomenting violence and intimidation against Palestinians in the West Bank.
“I have issued an Executive Order declaring a national emergency to deal with the threat posed by the situation in the West Bank, including in particular high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages, and property destruction,” President Biden said in a Thursday statement formally notifying Congress of his executive order.
The president said the actions of certain West Bank settlers risk undermining peace and stability throughout the West Bank, Gaza, Israel, and the broader Middle East.
“I find that these actions constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and I have declared a national emergency to deal with that threat,” the president continued.
Shortly after the president’s announcement Thursday, the U.S. State Department named the first four Israeli nationals to be sanctioned under this new executive order: David Chai Chasdai (also spelled Hasdai), Einan Tanjil, Shalom Zicherman, and Yinon Levi.
The State Department alleges Mr. Chasdai initiated and led a riot, in which participants set fires to vehicles and buildings, destroyed property, and assaulted Palestinian civilians in the West Bank town of Huwara. A Palestinian civilian was killed during this incident.
The State Department alleges Mr. Tanjil threw stones and used clubs to attack Palestinians and Israeli activists alike, causing injuries that required medical treatment.
The State Department alleges Mr. Zicherman assaulted Israeli activists in the West Bank, cornering at least two activists and injuring both. He is also alleged to have attempted to break the window of a passing vehicle occupied by Israeli activists.
The State Department alleges Mr. Levi has engaged in a variety of actions that repeatedly created “an atmosphere of fear” for multiple communities in the West Bank. His alleged actions include regularly leading groups of settlers from the Meitarim Farm settlement that assaulted Palestinian and Bedouin civilians and threatened them with additional violence if they did not leave their homes. His groups also allegedly burned the fields and destroyed other property of people they sought to intimidate.
The new sanctions authorize the United States to seize any property or assets of these four individuals that is being held within the United States. Any property or assets belonging to these individuals that are currently held by U.S. persons are also blocked and must be reported to the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
The West Bank and the Israeli Settlements
The West Bank is a territory bordered to the north, west, and south by Israel and to the east by Jordan. The territory has been under varying degrees of Israeli military and civil administration after Israeli forces seized control of the land during the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel has not formally annexed the West Bank but maintains administrative control of sections of the territory.
The United Nations Security Council resolution adopted unanimously in 1967 calls for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from the West Bank. The U.S. government has, for years, referred to the West Bank as an occupied territory subject to the jurisdiction of both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.
The West Bank has been primarily inhabited by Palestinian Arabs, but Israeli citizens began moving into and establishing settlements in areas throughout the occupied territory following the Six-Day War.
These settlements have often been a point of contention in the long-running Israeli–Palestinian conflict, with opponents arguing that the settlements increasingly carve into territory claimed by the Palestinian people and undermine efforts at a two-state solution.
The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution in 2016 declaring these Israeli settlements to be a “flagrant violation” of international law. The 14 of the 15 U.N. Security Council members supported the 2016 resolution. The United States, which is one of five permanent members on the U.N. Security Council with veto power, abstained from the vote.
Recent Violence in the West Bank
The West Bank has seen recent outbursts of violence involving Palestinians and Israeli civilians, as well as Israeli forces.
Israeli military forces conducted a raid on the Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank on June 19 to arrest two wanted individuals. The raid devolved into a gun battle. In the end, at least five Palestinians were killed and more than 90 were injured.
The day after the Israeli military raid in Jenin, a pair of Palestinian gunmen killed four Israelis and injured four more near an Israeli settlement of Eli in the West Bank. The day after that, hundreds of Israeli settlers entered the neighboring Palestinian community of Turmus Ayya and set fire to dozens of cars and homes.
Amid this series of violent exchanges in late June, the Israeli government approved plans for the construction of over 5,000 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Announcing U.S. visa restrictions against Israeli settlers in December, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the West Bank had already been dealing with a heightened level of violence even before Oct. 7, when the Hamas terrorist group from the separate territory of the Gaza Strip carried out widespread killings and kidnappings throughout southern Israel.
Netanyahu Says US Sanctions ‘Unnecessary’
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cast President Biden’s new executive order targeting Israeli settlers as “unnecessary.”
“The overwhelming majority of residents in Judea and Samaria are law-abiding citizens, many of whom are currently fighting—as conscripts and reservists—to defend Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu’s office said in a Thursday press statement.
“Judea and Samaria” is a term commonly used in Israeli society to refer to the area encompassing the West Bank. The Hebrew Bible describes the tribes of the Israelites inhabiting and governing over the areas of Judea and Samaria at various points in antiquity.
“Israel acts against all Israelis who break the law, everywhere,” the statement from Mr. Netanyahu’s office continues. “Therefore, exceptional measures are unnecessary.”
In an officially-organized press call, a senior Biden administration official said President Biden had “repeatedly” and “consistently” raised concerns about security conditions in the West Bank, as far back as the summer of 2022.
In another press gaggle with reporters aboard Air Force One, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the Biden administration had notified the Israeli government of the new sanctions actions on Thursday, prior to their public announcement.
“This is a direct answer to the dramatic increase in violence that we’ve seen by settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank,” Mr. Kirby added.