In a rare move against Israelis, the US has declared its intention to impose travel bans on extremist Jewish settlers involved in recent attacks on Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The announcement was made by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday, following a warning to Israel from the Biden administration last week regarding the escalation of attacks on Palestinians.
Scores of Palestinian villages have been emptied of their residents by armed Israeli settlers since the start of Israel’s military operation on the besieged Gaza Strip in early October. Settlers, many of whom are Jewish supremacists and subscribe to messianic ideals, have used Israel’s bombardment on Gaza as a cover to terrorise Palestinians in the West Bank.
The ethnic cleansing underway has been called “a new Nakba,” by Palestinians in the occupied territory. According to the Guardian, Israeli settlers have taken control of 10 per cent of so-called Area C in five years, but in the past year alone around 110,000 dunams, or 110 sq km (42 sq miles), of the West Bank has effectively been annexed by Israel. By way of comparison, the whole built-up area of Israeli settlements constructed since the occupation began in 1967 covers 80 sq km.
“We have underscored to the Israeli government the need to do more to hold accountable extremist settlers who have committed violent attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank,” said Blinken. “As President Biden has repeatedly said, those attacks are unacceptable. Today, the State Department is implementing a new visa restriction policy targeting individuals believed to have been involved in undermining peace, security or stability in the West Bank, including through committing acts of violence or taking other actions that unduly restrict civilians’ access to essential services and basic necessities.”
While some analysts view this as a positive step, others are sceptical. The move follows increased pressure on Israel to address the rising violence by illegal settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank. The first bans under this new policy were set to be imposed on Tuesday, affecting individuals deemed responsible for the attacks.
“I wouldn’t call it virtue signalling but in some respects it’s similar to the administration’s ban in the wake of [journalist Jamal] Khashoggi’s murder by the Saudi regime. There were visa restrictions imposed on a number of Saudis as well,” Aaron David Miller, a former state department analyst, negotiator and adviser on Middle East issues, is reported as saying. He expressed doubt that the decision would fundamentally alter the situation. “It’s necessary but not sufficient. It’s a welcome demonstration the administration takes seriously the reality of settler vigilantism. But as a practical matter it’s not going to change many hearts or minds.”