ExclusiveSupport for 'temporary ceasefire' a subtle shift in position

US readying to issue 2nd round of settler sanctions in coming weeks — sources

Several more Israeli extremists will face financial penalties with additional rounds to follow, official says; add that unilateral recognition of Palestinian state not likely

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

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

The Biden administration is readying to issue a second round of sanctions in the coming weeks against Israeli settlers who carried out acts of violence in the West Bank, a US official and a second source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel this week.

The sources said several more Israeli extremists will be targeted, joining the four who were sanctioned in the first round, which was announced in tandem with a February 1 executive order signed by US President Joe Biden that cleared the way for the unprecedented penalties on the grounds that settler violence threatens regional security along with American interests.

The planned second round of sanctions indicates that Washington intends to hold Jerusalem’s feet to the fire to address the phenomenon, which has continued in the weeks since the executive order was signed without a single arrest.

It would be a further demonstration of the lack of US trust in Israeli law enforcement, which rarely succeeds in prosecuting Israeli suspects while Palestinian perpetrators are convicted of attacks against Israelis at far higher rates.

The sources said higher-profile Israeli extremists would likely be sanctioned in the second round, though government officials would still not be targeted.

A senior US official said the administration in the first round of sanctions seriously considered including far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has a long history of incendiary comments and was also convicted of several terror-related charges before he entered politics. The US official said far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich was not considered for sanctions, though Washington did mull denying his request for a visa to enter the US last year.

File – Far-right leaders Itamar Ben Gvir (2-R) and Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The sources said that the administration has been gathering names of potential candidates in preparation for issuing similar sanctions on a periodic basis.

Two US officials said the Biden administration is also considering revoking the so-called Pompeo Doctrine from 2019, which deemed settlements “not per se inconsistent with international law.”

The senior US official speculated that the doctrine could be revoked if Israel takes a significant step to expand its footprint in the West Bank. Notably, Israel has avoided convening the Defense Ministry panel that advances settlement construction since the war with Hamas broke out. But even before October 7, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government managed to set a record for the most settlement homes advanced in a single year.

READ MORE: Contract signed with sanctioned Israeli exposes settler municipality to US sanctions

While there have been reports in the past week that the US is preparing to imminently unveil a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that could include the US unilaterally recognizing a Palestinian state, the two US officials speaking to The Times of Israel said that was far from the case. Unilateral recognition, either at the bilateral level or at the UN, would be far more difficult to pull off both legally and politically, the officials explained.

“We are not seriously discussing or considering any changes to the longstanding US policy that any recognition of a Palestinian state must come through direct negotiations between the parties rather than through unilateral recognition at the UN,” one US official said.

The two officials clarified that the US’s tougher approach regarding Israeli policy in the West Bank does not detract from its continued support of Israel’s war aims in Gaza. One of the officials pointed to the administration’s decision to veto another UN Security Council resolution Tuesday calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza — a step that further isolated the US on the world stage in its defense of Israel.

They noted that Washington continues to oppose a permanent ceasefire but has in recent days begun expressing its support for a “temporary ceasefire.” This isn’t different in principle from the “humanitarian pauses” it has been advocating for months, but the decision to begin using the word “ceasefire,” even if it is qualified as a temporary one, represents a subtle shift in the administration’s position, the officials acknowledged.

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