President Biden on Thursday ordered broad financial and travel sanctions on Israeli settlers accused of violent attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, a forceful 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 sanctions will initially be imposed on four Israelis, who will be cut off from the U.S. financial system and from accessing any American assets or property. They also will be prevented from traveling to the United States or engaging in any commerce with people in the United States.
For Mr. Biden, the order served a dual purpose: It was a sharp diplomatic notice to Israel’s government at a time when the United States is pressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for restraint. But it also sent a message to Arab Americans, a key part of the political coalition he needs to be re-elected, that he is serious about using the power of the United States on behalf of the Palestinians.
The executive order comes after years of American frustration with Israeli settlers, whom they view as a source of violence and instability and a threat to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. And it comes as Mr. Biden faces growing criticism over U.S. support for Israel’s war in Gaza, including from members of 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.
Israel’s war against Hamas is taking place in the 141-square-mile Gaza Strip, home to about two million Palestinians. But there are also deep tensions in the West Bank, a much larger area that Israel has occupied since 1967. It is home to more than 2.5 million Palestinians and has long been at the heart of the territorial dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.