Israel said worried US could slap sanctions on MKs, soldiers, settlers in West Bank

State Department officials said to give Israel 60 days to explain alleged ‘gross violations of human rights’ that could affect US supply of weapons

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers on patrol in the flashpoint Palestinian town of Huwara on November 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Illustrative: Israeli soldiers on patrol in the flashpoint Palestinian town of Huwara on November 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

If Israel does not give the United States a satisfactory explanation for alleged “gross violations of human rights” in the West Bank within 60 days, sanctions triggered by the so-called Leahy laws could hit ministers, parliamentarians, settlers and soldiers, the Kan public broadcaster reported Friday, citing an internal Foreign Ministry memorandum.

The memorandum was reportedly drafted by representatives from the Foreign Ministry and Israel Defense Forces’ Military Advocate Corps to whom US State Department officials have in recent weeks expressed the Biden administration’s concern that certain IDF units operating in the West Bank have perpetrated alleged violations of human rights while using arms supplied by the US.

Absent a sufficient Israeli response, the units might be subject to sanctions under the Leahy laws, a pair of US statutory provisions prohibiting assistance to foreign military units given “credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

According to the Kan report, such sanctions could affect IDF troops, as well as members of Knesset, ministers, settlers in the West Bank suspected of involvement in the violations, and banks that don’t comply with the sanctions.

Kan diplomatic correspondent Suleiman Maswadeh described the Israeli officials as “very, very worried” about the possibility of American sanctions, which they intend to discuss in the coming week.

The report comes on the heels of US President Joe Biden’s unprecedented February 1 executive order slapping travel bans and financial penalties on four settlers suspected of perpetrating violent crimes against Palestinians, including leading the Huwara riot in February.

Illustrative: a Palestinian man walks between scorched cars in a scrapyard after a settler riot, in the town of Huwara, near the West Bank city of Nablus, February 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Previously, the Israel Hayom daily had cited unnamed sources from the Foreign Ministry and Military Advocate Corps saying that “there is a distinct possibility that West Bank units will get caught up” in sanctions triggered by the Leahy Laws, losing access to American arms and munitions.

On January 18, the Guardian reported that the US State Department was reviewing about a dozen incidents under the Leahy laws, among which were the May 2021 shooting of 25-year-old Ahmad Abdu by Border Police officers near Ramallah; the January 2022 death by cardiac arrest of Palestinian-American Omar As’ad shortly after being bound, gagged and abandoned in the cold by soldiers from the Netzah Yehuda battalion in the central West Bank town of Jiljilya; and the May 2022 killing of Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was caught in crossfires in the northern West Bank refugee camp of Jenin.

According to the Guardian’s report, US officials had undertaken the review “quietly” while going to great lengths to ensure that Israel continued to enjoy access to American military assistance. The British daily claimed that “extraordinary internal State Department policies have been put in place that show extreme deference to the Israeli government.”

Illustrative: Israeli settlers hurl stones at Palestinians near the Israeli settlement of Yitzhar in the West Bank on October 7, 2020. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

The report also quoted the laws’ namesake and principal sponsor, former senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, as saying that “[o]ver many years I urged successive US administrations to apply the law [in the West Bank and Gaza], but it has not happened”

First enacted in 1997, the Leahy laws prohibit the US from furnishing assistance to foreign military units suspected of “gross violations of human rights,” unless the US Secretary of State finds the recipient country to have adequate judicial mechanisms in place to prosecute such violations, which, according to a 2021 agreement, the US deems Israel to have.

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