Saturday, July 20

U.S. Imposes Visa Bans Tied to West Bank Violence

The Biden administration is imposing visa bans on dozens of Israeli settlers who have committed acts of violence in the West Bank, taking action against what U.S. officials call a potential trigger for wider violence as Israel wages war in Gaza.

In a statement on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced a new policy “targeting individuals believed to have been involved in undermining peace, security or stability in the West Bank, including through committing acts of violence or taking other actions that unduly restrict civilians’ access to essential services and basic necessities.”

U.S. officials are most concerned about a recent surge in attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, but the new policy will also deny entry to Palestinians who have committed violent acts against Israelis. Under State Department privacy rules, the names of the people who will be designated in the coming days will not be made public.

The restrictions may also be extended to their immediate family members, Mr. Blinken said.

The move comes as the United States tries to revive efforts to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the current Gaza conflict is over, in the hopes of breaking the cycle of violence between the two sides. Any two-state solution would require Israel’s government to rein in right-wing West Bank settlers, who oppose the creation of a Palestinian state.

Extremist settler violence has spiked recently, and Palestinians and many analysts say that Israel’s government has allowed the often heavily armed settlers to operate with impunity. Attacks on Palestinians, meant to drive them from their homes, had reached their highest recorded levels even before the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks — and have only accelerated since then.

“Instability in the West Bank both harms the Israeli and Palestinian people and threatens Israel’s national security interests,” Mr. Blinken said in his statement.

President Biden and Mr. Blinken have pressed Israeli officials to take stronger action against West Bank settlers, with Mr. Blinken warning of the upcoming measures during his visit to Israel last week.

In a daily press briefing, the State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, said the first visa bans would be enacted on Tuesday. Designated Israeli citizens who currently have visas to enter the United States will be notified that their visas have been revoked, he said. Any other settlers without current visas will see their applications to obtain one rejected.

But the new action would have no effect on West Bank settlers who are dual Israeli-American citizens and thus do not require visas to enter the United States.

In late October, Mr. Biden said that settler attacks on Palestinians were like “pouring gasoline on the fire.”

The settlers are “attacking Palestinians in places that they’re entitled to be,” Mr. Biden said, calling for “accountability.”

Mr. Miller told reporters that the United States remained unsatisfied and had not seen “a sufficient level of action by the government of Israel that we think hold people properly accountable.”

Israeli officials have taken some steps, he said, including putting offenders in administrative detention. But the United States believes that more settlers should be criminally prosecuted.

Mr. Miller noted that the new action aims to punish not only acts of violence against people but also those against property, as well as “undue restrictions on civilians’ access to essential services and basic necessities.”

The Biden administration announced in September that it would begin allowing Israelis to enter the United States without a visa under what is known as a visa waiver program. But Israelis must still apply to enter the country under a streamlined program known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. Mr. Miller said blacklisted Israelis would find those applications rejected as well as any visa applications they might submit.