WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Biden administration announced that it would ban people who have “been involved in undermining peace, security, or stability in the West Bank” from entering the United States — a signal of its frustration with Israel’s government for not reining in extremist Israeli settlers.
The ban, announced Tuesday in a statement by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, also applies to people who commit acts of violence or “restrict civilians’ access to essential services and basic necessities.” The immediate family members of those people may also be banned from entering the United States.
The statement, ostensibly, is aimed both at Palestinians and Israelis. “We will continue to seek accountability for all acts of violence against civilians in the West Bank, regardless of the perpetrator or the victim,” it says.
But most of the statement focuses on President Joe Biden’s frustration with the Israeli government for ignoring his pleas to curb Israeli settler violence against Palestinian civilians, which has spiked since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war nearly two months ago.
“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,” Blinken said in the statement. “As President Biden has repeatedly said, those attacks are unacceptable. Last week in Israel, I made clear that the United States is ready to take action using our own authorities.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned settler violence and Israeli security forces have arrested and charged some Jewish extremists. But allies or sympathizers of settler extremists are members of his governing coalition, including Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far-right national security minister, who praised the extrajudicial killing of a Palestinian by a settler extremist earlier this year, saying the shooter should receive a medal.
At a press conference late Tuesday, Netanyahu ignored a reporter’s question about the ban. His colleagues in the War Cabinet, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz, said that the extremists were not representative of settlers and would be dealt with.
“As for the American sanctions, I ask everyone, including my American colleagues, do not use the term ‘settler violence’ because it does not represent the people of Israel, it does not represent the people of Judea and Samaria, 90% of whom are peaceful,” Gantz said. “We must use all tools against the extremists.”
Blinken’s statement also places responsibility on the Palestinian Authority, which governs Palestinian population centers in the West Bank, for preventing Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
“We will also continue to engage the Palestinian Authority to make clear it must do more to curb Palestinian attacks against Israelis,” the statement said. “Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have the responsibility to uphold stability in the West Bank.”
The statement comes amid increased Biden administration frustration over Israel’s prosecution of its war against Hamas, even as it continues to back Israel’s right to wage the war in the face of calls for a ceasefire from the international community and from progressive Democrats in Congress.
Israel resumed its war against Hamas last week after the terrorist group breached a temporary ceasefire during which Hamas released hostages it abducted in its Oct. 7 attack in exchange for Palestinian women and minors held for security offenses in Israeli prisons. U.S. officials urged Israel to not resume its attacks in Gaza’s south, where Hamas maintains some control, without taking additional measures to protect civilians.
In an appearance at a global conference on climate change in Dubai, Vice President Kamala Harris took Israel to task while affirming its right to defend itself from Hamas.
“No nation could possibly live with such danger, which is why we support Israel’s legitimate military objectives to eliminate the threat of Hamas,” she said.
“President Biden and I have also been clear with the Israeli government in public and in private many times: As Israel defends itself, it matters how,” Harris said. “The United States is unequivocal: International humanitarian law must be respected. Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating.”
Hamas terrorists killed 1,200 people, wounded thousands and abducted some 240 people on Oct. 7. An additional 82 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the invasion of Gaza. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says that 15,000 people have been killed since Israel launched airstrikes and an invasion of Gaza, including thousands of children. It is not clear what portion of that number are combatants and what portion were killed by misfired rockets aimed at Israel.
Lloyd Austin, the defense secretary and one of Israel’s staunchest allies in the Biden administration, also said over the weekend that Israel risked “strategic defeat” if it did not do more to protect Palestinian civilians.