In a rare punitive move against Israel, the State Department said Tuesday it will impose travel bans on extremist Jewish settlers implicated in a rash ofin the occupied West Bank.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the step after warning Israel last week that President Biden's administration would be taking action over the attacks.
Blinken said the new visa restriction policy "will target 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."
"The United States has consistently opposed actions that undermine stability in the West Bank, including attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, and Palestinian attacks against Israelis," Blinken said on Tuesday. "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."
The decision comes at a sensitive moment in. The Biden administration has firmly backed Israel since it was attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7, even as international criticism of Israel has mounted.
The new policy falls under the Immigration and Nationality Act and is expected to affect "dozens of individuals and potentially their family members," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a briefing Tuesday, adding that the policy will apply to Israelis and Palestinians.
Since Palestinians are not included in the U.S.'s Visa Waiver Program, their eligibility for applying for visas would be affected if found guilty of violence, Miller said. Israelis who have committed violence will either have their visa revoked or be blocked from applying for a visa.
When asked why the U.S. was taking action now, given, Miller said the U.S. has repeatedly raised the issue with the Israeli government and emphasized the need to curb settler violence. Miller said the U.S. has not seen significant action taken by the Israeli government.
Miller declined to comment on the U.S.'s plan to hold American settlers to account for violence, saying the Israeli government is primarily responsible for them; he deferred further questions to the Department of Justice.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington declined to comment on the development.
Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Tuesday condemnedin the West Bank, Reuters reported, saying only the police and the military had the right to use force.
In recent weeks, the Biden administration has stepped up calls on Israel to do more to limit civilian casualties as the Israelis expand their offensive and target densely populated southern Gaza. The U.S. has refrained from outright criticism of that offensive. It has been increasingly outspoken, however, about settler violence in the West Bank and Israel's failure to respond to U.S. calls to stop it.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Monday that since Oct. 7 at least. The U.N. agency said it has recorded 314 attacks by settlers that have resulted in Palestinian casualties, damage to Palestinian-owned property or both. One-third of the attacks included threats with firearms, including shootings, and in nearly half of the attacks the settlers were accompanied or actively supported by Israeli forces.
"Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have the responsibility to uphold stability in the West Bank," Blinken said earlier. "Instability in the West Bank both harms the Israeli and Palestinian people and threatens Israel's national security interests."
Tuesday's move comes shortly after Israel was granted entry into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows its citizens visa-free entry into the U.S. Those targeted by the action will not be eligible for the program, and those who hold current U.S. visas will have them revoked.
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