Israel-Hamas War News: Biden Imposes Sanctions on Israeli Settlers Over West Bank Violence
President Biden on Thursday ordered broad financial and travel sanctions on Israeli settlers accused of violent attacks on Palestinians
President Biden on Thursday ordered broad financial and travel sanctions on Israeli settlers accused of violent attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, a gesture aimed in part at Arab American voters in the United States who have expressed fury about the president’s backing of Israel’s war in Gaza.
Mr. Biden authorized the sanctions with an executive order that goes further than a directive issued in December by the State Department, which imposed visa bans on dozens of Israeli settlers who have committed acts of violence in the West Bank.
The new order cuts people off from the U.S. financial system and from assets or property they have in the United States. It also prevents them from traveling to the United States. Four people would be sanctioned on Thursday but there will be more announcements to come, according to Biden administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the order.
The executive order comes as Mr. Biden faces growing criticism over U.S. support for Israel’s war in Gaza, including from his own party. American officials fear a recent surge in attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank could set off even wider violence, making an already combustible situation worse.
“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,” said Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser.
Palestinians and many analysts say that Israel’s government has allowed the often heavily armed settlers to operate with impunity.
The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel responded to the sanctions by saying the “vast majority” of Israeli West Bank settlers are “law-abiding citizens.” Israel “acts against lawbreakers everywhere, so there is no need for exceptional steps in this matter,” Mr. Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
The White House announced the sanctions just hours before Mr. Biden was set to hold a campaign event in Michigan, a critical battleground state that has a large Arab American population and has been the site of numerous protests over the war in Gaza.
Before leaving for Michigan, Mr. Biden spoke about what he said was “the trauma, the death and destruction in Israel and Gaza.” Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, he pledged to work for the release of hostages and the lives of Palestinians.
“Not only do we pray for peace, we are actively working for peace, security, dignity for the Israeli people and the Palestinian people,” he told the group of lawmakers and religious leaders at the event.
Michigan is critical to Mr. Biden’s campaign for a second term. In 2020, he won the state over former President Donald J. Trump by 154,188 out of almost 5.5 million votes cast that year. Michigan is home to several hundred thousand Arab Americans, most of whom live in the Detroit area. Those areas voted by big margins for Mr. Biden in 2020.
But since the attacks in Israel, polls show the president losing support among Palestinians and other Arab Americans. One poll late last year showed Mr. Biden’s support in that population plummeting from 59 percent to just 17 percent, a more than 40 percentage point decrease since the last election.
Mr. Biden has been dogged by people protesting his support for Israel at almost every campaign event in recent weeks. Before Mr. Biden’s travel on Thursday, the White House and the president’s re-election campaign refused to provide details about where he was going in Michigan or what he would be doing.
Osama A. Siblani, publisher of the Dearborn-based Arab American News, said on Thursday that Mr. Biden’s standing among Arab voters was as low as it had ever been, and that the sanctions would do nothing to change that.
“We have given up on him doing anything,” Mr. Siblani said, adding that he had been struck by the lack of specificity from the White House about the president’s schedule in Michigan, which he said seemed like an attempt to avoid possible protests.
“If the community is not going to be able to protest his visit,” Mr. Siblani said, “we’re going to give him the answer on Feb. 27,” a reference to the date of the Michigan Democratic presidential primary.
The anger directed at the president is largely fueled by the belief that his administration has not done enough to prevent the killing of thousands of Palestinians by Israel as it wages war in Gaza against Hamas. Gazan authorities say at least 27,000 people have been killed during Israel’s military campaign.
But violence by extremist settlers, meant to drive Palestinians from their homes in the West Bank, has spiked recently, and Palestinians and many analysts say that Israel’s government has allowed the often heavily armed settlers to operate with impunity. Attacks on Palestinians, meant to drive them from their homes, had reached their highest recorded levels even before the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks — and have only accelerated since then.
Mitch Smith contributed reporting from Harrison Township, Mich., outside Detroit. Zach Montague contributed reporting from Washington.