EU chief says she backs imposing sanctions on Israeli extremists in West Bank

Von der Leyen’s comments in support of taking action against settlers who attack Palestinians come a week after US announced plans to impose travel ban on them

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a speech during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on December 13, 2023. (Frederick Florin/AFP)
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a speech during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on December 13, 2023. (Frederick Florin/AFP)

STRASBOURG, France — EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday backed imposing sanctions on extremist Israeli settlers responsible for attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank.

“The rise in violence by extremist settlers is inflicting immense suffering on the Palestinians. It undermines the prospects for a lasting peace and could further exacerbate regional instability,” the European Commission president told EU lawmakers.

“I am in favor of sanctioning those involved in the attacks in the West Bank. They must be held accountable. This violence has nothing to do with the fight against Hamas and must stop.”

Von der Leyen’s comments come after European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday that he would put forward a proposal to sanction those West Bank settlers.

Saying that the EU was “alarmed by the violence in the West Bank by extremist settlers,” Borrell said he had presented a discussion paper to the EU foreign ministers looking at “imposing sanctions against extremist settlers in West Bank,” who have stepped up attacks against Palestinian residents.

Borrell said he would soon make that a formal proposal, based on an initiative taken by the United States, which last week said it would refuse visas to violent extremist Israeli settlers.

He acknowledged, however, that there was as yet no unanimity among the 27 EU governments on the issue, who would need to vote unanimously in order to enact the proposal.

The EU has failed to have a united stance on the violence roiling the Middle East since the October 7 attack Hamas terror onslaught and subsequent war in Gaza.

Israeli soldiers restrain Jewish settlers after they stormed the Palestinian West Bank village of Dayr Sharaf following a terror attack in which an Israeli driver was shot dead, November 2, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

On October 7, thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst into Israel from the land, air and sea in a shock assault in which they massacred more than 1,200 people and seized some 240 hostages. Entire families were slaughtered in their homes and some 360 people were mowed down at an outdoor music festival.

In response to the deadliest terror attack in the country’s history, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas from the Gaza Strip, where the terror group has ruled since 2007.

Since the start of Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza, there has been a rise in violence in the West Bank, and an uptick in violent attacks against Palestinians there has been noted by human rights groups in Israel and abroad.

On November 28, anti-West Bank settlement organization Yesh Din said that since October 7, they have recorded 225 incidents of Israeli civilian violence in 93 Palestinian communities in the West Bank.

According to activist groups such as B’tselem and Peace Now, as well as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), this wave of harassment has led hundreds of Palestinians in vulnerable rural communities to abandon their homes and villages.

Since October 7, there have been a number of deadly terror attacks in the West Bank and Israel.

Israeli officers secure the scene after an attack by gunmen at a checkpoint guarding access to road tunnels linking the West Bank and Jerusalem on November 16, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Israeli troops have arrested some 2,000 wanted Palestinians across the West Bank, including more than 1,100 affiliated with Hamas.

According to the Palestinian Authority health ministry, some 200 West Bank Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, and in a few cases settlers.

Based on military estimates, the vast majority of the 200 Palestinians killed since October 7 were shot dead during clashes amid arrest raids. Around 60% of them, according to data seen by The Times of Israel, were armed with either a firearm or an explosive device.

The IDF has said that it is aware of at least three cases of uninvolved Palestinians being killed by troops in recent weeks, and a handful of cases of settlers killing Palestinians, which are still under investigation.

Times of Israel staff and Gianluca Pacchiani contributed to this report.

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