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Monday, February 26, 2024

In a Rare Action Against Israel, US Restricts Visas for Extremist West Bank Settlers

In a significant move, the United States has taken concrete action against extremist Israeli settlers involved in violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. The decision to bar visas for these individuals comes just a month after Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program, which grants its citizens visa-free access to the United States. This move signifies a rare repercussion by the United States against Israelis amid the ongoing two-month-old conflict, where President Joe Biden has both privately urged Israel and publicly expressed strong support.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized the necessity for the Israeli government to take more substantial measures in holding extremist settlers accountable for violent attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank. Blinken stated in a released statement, “As President Biden has repeatedly said, those attacks are unacceptable.” The United States, through this action, aims to discourage activities undermining peace, security, or stability in the West Bank and actions that unduly restrict civilians’ access to essential services and necessities.

A convoy of army vehicles is seen during a military raid in the Jenin refugee camp, a militant stronghold, in the occupied West Bank, Tuesday, July 4, 2023. Palestinian health officials said at least 10 Palestinians were killed in the operation, which began Monday. (AP Photo)

The visa restrictions will affect individuals involved in activities deemed detrimental to stability in the West Bank. This includes those who have participated in violent attacks against Palestinians or have contributed to actions limiting civilians’ access to vital services. The move is a clear signal that the United States is committed to addressing the ongoing instability in the region and holding those responsible accountable.

The West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority holds limited autonomy, has witnessed numerous complaints of attacks and harassment by settlers, some of whom have been reported to be serving in the Israeli military. The U.S. State Department revealed that dozens of settlers, whose identities were not disclosed publicly, would be affected by the visa ban. Immediate family members of these individuals will also be subject to the restrictions. However, U.S. citizens among the extremist settlers will not face the same visa restrictions.

The decision comes at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is part of a coalition with far-right parties strongly supporting Jewish settlement of lands seized in 1967—an act considered illegal under international law. This move indicates a shift in the Biden administration’s position, aligning with the traditional U.S. and international stance of opposing such settlements. While the administration had previously maintained a largely rhetorical position on settlements, this action reflects a return to a more decisive stance on the matter.

It is essential to note that previous U.S. administrations, including that of Donald Trump, had deviated from the traditional stance on settlements. Mike Pompeo, Blinken’s predecessor, dropped objections to settlements and visited one late in his term, marking a departure from the stance taken by the current administration. The recent visa restrictions highlight a renewed commitment by the United States to address the root causes of instability in the West Bank and advocate for accountability in the region.

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