WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is expected to issue an executive order targeting Israeli settlers in the West Bank who are attacking Palestinians in the occupied territory, according to four people familiar with the matter.
A senior administration official, who like others was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the White House is expected to announce the order later Thursday.
The order comes as Biden faces growing criticism for his administration’s strong support for Israel as casualties mount in the Israel-Hamas war. The move is a rare move against America’s closest ally in the Middle East, which Biden says has the right to defend itself. But the Democratic president has pressured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to show more restraint in its military operations aimed at rooting out Hamas, the terrorist group that runs Gaza and attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
Biden has spoken out against retaliatory attacks by Israeli settlers and pledged that those responsible for the violence will be held accountable. He said in late October that violence by “extremist settlers” was tantamount to “pouring gasoline” on a fire already burning in the Middle East. “This has to stop. They should be held accountable. It must stop now,” Biden said.
After the war began, Israel Defense Forces intensified raids in the West Bank. Hamas militants are present in the West Bank, but operate largely underground due to Israel’s tight grip on the territory. Palestinians complain that Israeli actions in the West Bank have further blurred the line between security forces and radicalized, violent residents.
The executive order is expected to lay the groundwork for sanctions against individuals involved in violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer at the White House on Wednesday. It is not clear whether the executive order was discussed.
The order would give the Treasury Department the authority to impose financial sanctions on settlers, but is not intended to target US citizens. A large number of settlers in the West Bank hold US citizenship.
According to Palestinian officials, attacks on Israeli settlers have intensified since the war began and some Palestinians have been killed. Rights groups say settlers have set cars on fire and attacked several small Bedouin communities, forcing the evacuation of other areas.
Biden’s expected order was first reported by Politico.
The new executive order comes as Biden was scheduled to visit Michigan on Thursday to drum up support from union members in a key presidential battleground state. The Democratic president has faced sharp criticism from Arab and Muslim leaders over his handling of the war with Hamas, and the shadow of the conflict has some Democrats worried it could have a major impact on the outcome of the November election.
The president’s campaign team has already seen worrying signs of a growing rift with Michigan’s Arab American community.
Last week, the president’s campaign manager, Julie Chávez Rodríguez, traveled to suburban Detroit and found that many community leaders were unwilling to meet with her. Some frustrated with Biden’s Israel policy are working to discourage voters from supporting the president in the general election.
The State Department announced in December that it would impose a travel ban on extremist Jewish residents implicated in recent attacks on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
The department did not announce individual visa restrictions. But officials at the time said the sanctions would include “dozens” of settlers and their families, with more sanctions to be imposed if the violence continued.