WASHINGTON (AP) — In a rare punitive move against Israel, the State Department announced Tuesday that it would impose travel bans on extremist Jewish settlers implicated in a series of recent attacks on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the move after warning Israel last week that President Joe Biden’s administration would take action against the attacks. Blinken did not announce individual visa bans, but officials said they would come this week and could affect dozens of settlers and their families.
The decision comes at a delicate time in American-Israeli relations. The Biden administration has provided strong support for Israel since the October 7 Hamas attack, even as international criticism of Israel has increased.
But in recent weeks the government has stepped up calls for Israel to do more to limit civilian casualties as the Israelis expand their offensive to target the densely populated southern Gaza Strip. The USA has refrained from directly criticizing this offensive. Settler violence in the West Bank and Israel’s failure to respond to U.S. calls to stop it became increasingly clear.
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“We have emphasized to the Israeli government that more must be done to hold accountable extremist settlers who have carried out violent attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank,” Blinken said in a statement. “As President Biden has said repeatedly, these attacks are unacceptable.”
“Today, the State Department is introducing a new visa restriction policy targeting individuals believed to have been involved in undermining peace, security, or stability in the West Bank, including through the commission of acts of violence or other actions that are detrimental to the West Bank “Unreasonably restrict civilians’ access to essential services and basic needs,” Blinken said.
He said the U.S. would continue to hold itself accountable for settler violence against Palestinians as well as Palestinian attacks on Israelis in the West Bank and Israel, particularly as tensions remain extremely high due to the conflict in Gaza.
“Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have a responsibility to maintain stability in the West Bank,” Blinken said. “Instability in the West Bank harms both the Israeli and Palestinian people and threatens Israel’s national security interests.”
Tuesday’s move comes just a month after Israel was granted entry into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which allows its citizens visa-free entry to the United States. Those affected by the action are not eligible for the program, but those with current U.S. visas are eligible to have them revoked.
Source : www.pbs.org