US says it ‘expects’ Israel to prosecute settlers involved in Huwara rampage

State Department spokesman condemns terror attacks targeting Israelis, expresses appreciation to Netanyahu, Herzog for calling on civilians to not take law into their own hands

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

Settlers pray as cars and homes burn in the West Bank town of Huwara on February 26, 2023. (Screenshot/Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Settlers pray as cars and homes burn in the West Bank town of Huwara on February 26, 2023. (Screenshot/Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration said Monday that it expects Israel to prosecute those involved in the deadly settler rampage in a Palestinian town and provide compensation to the Palestinians whose homes and property were destroyed or damaged.

“We expect the Israeli government to ensure full accountability and legal prosecution of those responsible for these attacks in addition to compensation for the loss of homes and property,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during a press briefing, calling the Sunday night attack by hundreds of settlers in the northern West Bank town of Huwara “completely unacceptable.”

The comments were the most forceful yet from the US following the mass riot in which a 37-year-old Palestinian man was killed, some three hundred were wounded — four seriously — and dozens of buildings and vehicles were torched.

Price also condemned the “horrific” terror attack that preceded the rampage in which two Israeli brothers were shot dead while driving through Huwara, and a terror shooting on Monday evening that killed a 27-year-old Israeli-American.

But Price’s prepared remarks focused largely on the settler attack.

“Accountability and justice should be pursued with equal rigor in all cases of extremist violence and equal resources dedicated to prevent such attacks and bring those responsible to justice,” Price said.

A senior US official told The Times of Israel that the decision to stress the need for accountability came amid the administration’s increasing frustration with the “longstanding impunity” enjoyed by perpetrators of settler violence.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, November 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Israeli authorities said they arrested eight suspects following Sunday’s settler attack but that six of them had been released.

Price at the briefing expressed Washington’s appreciation for the remarks made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog calling on Israelis to refrain from taking the law into their own hands.

Price was then pressed on the handful of coalition members who have and refused to condemn the Huwara rampage and dismissed an Israeli pledge made during a summit in Aqaba, Jordan, to rein in tensions.

“None of these members are the prime minister of Israel,” Price said, reiterating the position that the Biden administration began vocalizing following the establishment of Netanyahu’s new government two months ago under which it will engage primarily with the premier, rather than his far-right ministers.

“We work directly with the prime minister, with his team, Price said. “We are going to — and this applies to governments around the world — judge governments on their actions.”

Channel 12 quoted a senior US official who expressed their disappointment with the Israeli ministers speaking out against the Aqaba summit in addition to the failure of Israeli security forces to prevent the Huwara attack just hours after the conference.

An aerial view of a scrapyard where cars were torched overnight in the Palestinian town of Huwara near Nablus in the West Bank, February 27, 2023. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

The latest incidents of violence “underscore the fragility of the situation in the West Bank and the urgent need for increased cooperation to prevent further violence,” Price said, discussing the rare regional summit that Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, Egyptian and American officials held in Aqaba, Jordan where the parties committed to taking steps to deescalate tensions.

The meeting’s participants issued a joint statement afterward in which Israel agreed to hold off on advancing new settlement homes for four months and on advancing outpost legalizations for six months. Netanyahu’s office later insisted though that it did not commit to a settlement freeze since the Defense Ministry body that authorizes West Bank construction only convenes on a quarterly basis anyway.

The US hailed the Aqaba meeting and subsequent joint communique as an important first step to restoring calm after a particularly deadly start to the year in which 14 people were killed in Palestinian attacks and 62 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank, mostly in clashes with Israeli troops.

“It was a historic meeting between Israelis and Palestinians,” Price said of the Aqaba summit, noting that it will be more important for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to fulfill the commitments during the event.

Asked what specific commitments the PA made beyond the broader pledge to take de-escalating steps, Price declined to elaborate.

View of the Jordanian city of Aqaba, as seen from the Israeli city of Eilat. November 10, 2019. (Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

“It’s important that the [Aqaba] agreement emerged publicly because the entire world is now able to see what the parties agreed to, and the entire world will be able to determine for themselves whether there is broad adherence,” he said.

The Aqaba communique was also highlighted at Monday’s separate White House press briefing, during which National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby noted that the “starting point” agreement was “the first agreement of any kind in years.”

Kirby also revealed that the parties agreed to hold a follow-up meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt, ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that begins toward the end of March.

Kirby condemned the latest incidents of West Bank violence, arguing that “the Aqaba meeting was designed precisely to help manage and defuse crises like this.”

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