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Biden issues executive order targeting violent Israeli settlers in the West Bank

<i>Andrew Harnik/AP</i><br/>President Joe Biden speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast at the Capitol in Washington on Thursday
Andrew Harnik/AP
President Joe Biden speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast at the Capitol in Washington on Thursday

By MJ Lee, Kevin Liptak, Michael Williams, Nikki Carvajal and Jennifer Hansler, CNN

Washington (CNN) — President Joe Biden issued an executive order targeting violent Israeli settlers in the West Bank whom he has said have undermined stability in the area, a US official and source familiar with the matter told CNN.

The new directive, first reported by Politico and expected to be announced Thursday, will impose sanctions on several individuals accused of having participated in the violent acts.

The order targets four individuals accused of directly perpetrating violence or intimidation in the West Bank, a senior administration official said, including people accused of initiating and leading a riot; setting buildings, fields and vehicles on fire; assaulting civilians and damaging property.

The State Department announced the names of the Israelis targeted by the executive order, which blocks their financial assets and bars them from coming to the US. They are David Chai Chasdai, Einan Tanjil, Shalom Zicherman and Yinon Levi.

The White House notified the Israeli government of their plans ahead of the order, an official said.

Officials said they had compiled evidence they said offered proof of the individuals’ role in the West Bank violence that would withstand judicial review, including information from public reporting.

Chasdai, according to the State Department, “initiated and led a riot, which involved setting vehicles and buildings on fire, assaulting Palestinian civilians, and causing damage to property in Huwara, which resulted in the death of a Palestinian civilian.”

Tanjil “was involved in assaulting Palestinian farmers and Israeli activists by attacking them with stones and clubs, resulting in injuries that required medical treatment,” according to a State Department fact sheet.

Zicherman, “according to video evidence, assaulted Israeli activists and their vehicles in the West Bank, blocking them on the street, and attempted to break the windows of passing vehicles with activists inside.” He cornered two activists, injuring both of them, according to the State Department.

Levi “led a group of settlers who engaged in actions creating an atmosphere of fear in the West Bank,” according to the fact sheet.

“He regularly led groups of settlers from the Meitarim Farm outpost that assaulted Palestinian and Bedouin civilians, threatened them with additional violence if they did not leave their homes, burned their fields, and destroyed their property,” it said. Levi “and other settlers at Meitarim Farm have repeatedly attacked multiple communities within the West Bank.”

It’s not clear when each of these acts occurred. The US has no plans to target Israeli government officials for sanctions, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Thursday.

Biden has condemned these acts of violence in the past, and the issue is one that the president has personally discussed in recent months with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s office said in a statement Thursday that the sanctions were unnecessary.

“Israel acts against all lawbreakers everywhere, so there is no room for exceptional measures in this regard,” the prime minister’s office said, adding that “the absolute majority” of Israeli settlers in the West Bank “are law-abiding citizens.”

The order comes as the president faces backlash from key parts of his political coalition for his backing of Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza. While the order is not expected to address the situation in Gaza, it will mark one of the more significant actions Biden has taken to critique Israel since the war began in the wake of the October 7 terrorist attack by Hamas and could be a signal from Biden toward Muslim and Arab-American voters who are upset with his refusal to call for a ceasefire.

In December, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new policy to prevent extremist Israeli settlers responsible for violence in the West Bank from coming to the United States.

The State Department can apply the policy to both Israelis and Palestinians who were responsible for attacks in the West Bank, Blinken said at the time.

Ultimately, the new policy is expected “to impact dozens of individuals and potentially their family members,” State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said at the time.

Settler violence against West Bank residents has been a primary flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since long before the October 7 Hamas attack. When hundreds of Israeli settlers rampaged through the West Bank town of Huwara last February, the ensuing violence was so brutal that the Israeli military commander over the West Bank referred to it as a “pogrom.”

The violence has sharpened since October 7, along with the fears of Palestinians that they would be subjected to revenge attacks. Dozens of Palestinians were killed in the West Bank in the weeks immediately following the Hamas attack as settler violence intensified.

An estimated 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank. It’s unclear which specific acts those targeted by Biden’s executive order participated in.

Biden has raised the issue of settler violence in “almost every diplomatic conversation he has with Israeli leaders,” a senior administration official said.

“These actions pose a grave threat to peace, security and stability in the West Bank, Israel, and the Middle East region, and they also obstruct the realization, ultimately, of an independent Palestinian state existing side by side with Israel, and by extension the enduring peace and stability for Palestinians and Israelis alike,” the official said.

Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast on Capitol Hill Thursday morning, ahead of issuing the executive order, Biden acknowledged the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians. He said he understands the “pain and passion felt by so many here in America and around the world” in response to the “trauma, the destruction in Israel and Gaza.”

“We value and pray for the lives taken and for the families left behind,” Biden said. “For all those who are living in dire circumstances, innocent men, women and children, held hostage or under bombardment, or displaced not knowing where the next meal will come from, or if it will come at all.”

As of early this week, the overall death toll in Gaza since October 7 had risen to 26,422 with 65,087 injured, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza. More than 1,200 people were killed in the original Hamas attack on Israel and more than 200 were taken hostage.

“Not only do we pray for peace,” he continued, “we’re actively working for peace, security and dignity for the Israeli people and the Palestinian people.”

Biden said he was engaged in bringing hostages held by Hamas home “day and night,” and was also working to “ease the humanitarian crisis and to bring peace to Gaza and Israel and enduring peace with two states for two peoples.”

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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