The Biden administration issued an executive order sanctioning “persons undermining peace, security and stability in the West Bank,” citing “high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages and property destruction.”
Adopting what it calls a “holistic approach” to the Middle East regional crisis, the White House named four sabras, or native-born Israelis, whom it is sanctioning: David Chai Chasdai of Givat Ronen; Yinon Levi of Meitarim Farm; Einan Tanjil of Kiryat Ekron; and Shalom Zicherman of Mitzpe Yair.
Chasdai was placed under administrative detention last year after being suspected of participating in a riot in the Arab town Huwara on Feb. 26, in retribution for a terrorist attack that killed two Israelis earlier that day in the same town. A Palestinian civilian was killed in the riot.
The U.S. State Department suspects Levi, who reportedly runs Meitarim Farm, of leading a group of settlers that “engaged in actions creating an atmosphere of fear,” including carrying out attacks against Palestinian and Bedouin civilians in the village of Khirbet Zanuta and destroying their property.
Tanjil was involved in assaulting Palestinian farmers and Israeli “human-rights activists” with stones and clubs, per the department.
The State Department alleges that video evidence shows that Zicherman assaulted “Israeli activists and their vehicles in the West Bank, blocking them on the street and attempting to break the windows of passing vehicles with activists inside.” He “cornered at least two of the activists and injured both,” the department alleges.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s executive order comes under growing political pressure, including from members of his own Democratic Party, to be more evenhanded—in their view—in dealing with Israel as it continues its military operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Biden is also scheduled on Thursday to visit Michigan, a swing state and home to a significant contingent of Arab Americans who are frustrated with his handling of the war. The metropolitan Detroit area—the district of progressive Democrat Rep. Rashida Tlaib—has the country’s largest Arabic-speaking population, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data.
On Wednesday, Tlaib was one of two House legislators who, along with Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), dissented to deny entry into the United States to non-U.S. citizen members of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad who attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
The executive order places those sanctioned on the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s specially designated nationals and blocked persons list. It blocks property and interests held in America that belong to any designated individual and prohibits U.S. citizens from contributing or providing funds, goods and/or services to or to benefit those designated.
It essentially cuts off those designated from the U.S. financial system and blocks them from entering the United States.
“The overwhelming majority of residents in Judea and Samaria are law-abiding citizens, many of whom are currently fighting—as conscripts and reservists—to defend Israel,” stated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in response to the executive order.
“Israel acts against all Israelis who break the law, everywhere,” Netanyahu added. “Exceptional measures are unnecessary.”
Threat to peace
Biden has “spoken about his concern repeatedly and consistently, publicly and also in almost every diplomatic conversation he has with Israeli leaders, about the rise in violence that we’ve seen in the West Bank from extremists,” a senior administration official told reporters, on background.
“These actors and 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 of ultimately an independent Palestinian state, existing side by side with the state of Israel,” the senior official said.
Biden repeatedly raised the issue with Netanyahu, as did U.S. officials with their Israeli counterparts, according to the senior official. Israeli officials at multiple levels were informed of today’s sanctions in advance, the official said.
“The United States has consistently opposed actions that undermine stability in the West Bank and the prospects of peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” stated U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “This includes attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and Palestinian attacks against Israelis. There is no justification for extremist violence against civilians, whatever their national origin, ethnicity or religion.”
“Israel must do more to stop violence against civilians in the West Bank and hold accountable those responsible for it,” Blinken added. “The United States will continue to take actions to advance the foreign-policy objectives of the United States, including the viability of a two-state solution, and is committed to the safety, security, and dignity of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor, stated that Washington has issued five rounds of sanctions on Hamas since Oct. 7.
“President Biden has also spoken about his concern about the rise in violence that we have seen in the West Bank from extremist actors—in particular the rise in extremist settler violence, which reached record levels in 2023,” Sullivan stated. “This violence poses a grave threat to peace, security and stability in the West Bank, Israel, and the Middle East region, and threatens the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.”
‘A lie disconnected from reality’
Israeli data has shown that Israeli violence in Judea and Samaria has been decreasing for some time. Earlier this month, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen called reports of growing “settler violence” a “blood libel” and “a lie disconnected from reality.”
In November, Biden directed top U.S. officials to develop options for punishing Jewish settlers who directly or indirectly “threaten the security or stability of the West Bank,” intimidate Judea and Samaria civilians to force “displacement actions in the West Bank” or engage in “human-rights abuses or violations and actions that significantly obstruct, disrupt or prevent efforts to achieve a two-state solution.”
In December, Blinken announced U.S. visa restrictions on settlers, though those sanctioned were not named, according to U.S. visa rules.
The senior administration official said that the sanctions regime requires the administration to “build evidentiary packages that would pass judicial review.”
“It requires multiple forms of evidence and to ensure that that evidence can be corroborated from both credible sources,” the official said.
The official said evidence can include information from public reporting, court documents or convictions in foreign states, along with intelligence reporting.
“But we must have multiple well-documented pieces of credible information and data before designating any individual,” the senior official said.