US sounds alarm over West Bank violence at White House, UN, State Department
State Dept. spokesman highlights over 100 Palestinians killed in West Bank, 30 in Gaza, since start of 2022, in addition to 20 Israelis civilians killed in terror attacks
Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief
The Biden administration took the opportunity to voice its concern regarding the deteriorating security situation in the West Bank on three separate occasions Wednesday at the State Department, the United Nations and the White House.
State Department spokesman Ned Price weighed in on the matter at his daily press briefing, highlighting the more than 100 Palestinians killed in the territory since the start of the year and saying that the US is “deeply concerned” by the matter.
He also noted the 30 Palestinians killed in Gaza thus far in 2022 along with the more than 20 Israelis and other civilians killed in Palestinian terror attacks on both sides of the Green Line.
This was not the first time the Biden administration has expressed concern regarding violence in the West Bank in recent weeks, but the decision to do so without priming at the top of the daily press briefing indicated the heightened seriousness with which the US is taking the matter.
“We call on all parties to do everything in their power to de-escalate the situation and return to a period of calm. This is in the interest of all Israelis and Palestinians. As we have said for some time, we call on the parties themselves to contain the violence,” Price continued. “The United States and other international partners stand ready to help but we cannot substitute for vital actions by the parties to mitigate conflict and to restore calm.”
A similar statement was made by US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield during the Security Council’s monthly session on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The US envoy highlighted clashes in the northern West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus, which have broken out in recent months as the IDF has carried out raids in response to a wave of Palestinian terror attacks that broke out at the beginning of the year.
“We are troubled by the overall trend of growing violence,” she said while panning unilateral actions taken by both parties that have exasperated tensions.
“This includes terrorist attacks and incitement to violence against Israelis. This includes plans to develop Har Gilo west, which would further fragment the West Bank – and possible demolitions in Masafer Yatta. And this includes violence inflicted by Israeli settlers on Palestinians in their neighborhoods, and in some cases escorted by Israeli security forces,” she said.
Hours after her remarks, a 64-year-old Palestinian from the northern West Bank village of Madama was hospitalized after allegedly being assaulted by settlers who said came from the direction of the nearby Israeli settlement of Yitzhar and hurled stones at his house. This followed a report that a Molotov cocktail was hurled at an IDF jeep near the same village.
Around the same time, shots were fired at an Israeli vehicle driving through the southern West Bank on Wednesday night, the military said. No injuries were caused, but the car was slightly damaged in the attack.
On Wednesday morning, at least four Palestinians were killed in a military raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin.
Two of those killed were gunmen responsible for a series of shootings in the West Bank and were planning “more significant attacks in the near future,” according to an Israeli military official. IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said in a meeting with senior officers that the troops managed to foil a “concrete threat.”
Thomas-Greenfield in her remarks also urged the Palestinian Authority to “respect human rights” and cease its payments to those who carried out attacks against Israelis, adding that “a strong and legitimate PA is in the interest of the entire region.”
Israeli forces have been carrying out nightly raids in PA-controlled areas of the West Bank for months as part of Operation Breakwater, launched after a series of deadly Palestinian attacks that killed 19 people between mid-March and the beginning of May.
The troops have repeatedly come under gunfire during the raids, which have led to the arrests of over 2,000 suspects, according to the Shin Bet security service. The over 100 Palestinians killed in 2022 include those who carried out attacks inside Israel, teens violently protesting the IDF’s nightly raids and Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh.
Violence in the West Bank was at the top of the agenda when US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf visited the region at the beginning of the month. Leaf said in a briefing afterward that the Biden administration is working to ensure the continuation of security cooperation between Israel and the PA in order to lower tensions.
Leaf added that bolstering the security coordination alone will not be sufficient in clamping down on the recent violence, saying that “other things are done around and outside that security cooperation that sustain it.”
This point was also echoed on Wednesday by US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan during his meeting with his visiting Israeli counterpart Eyal Hulata. Sullivan “stressed the need to take steps to de-escalate tensions in the West Bank, and to continue to take steps to improve the lives of Palestinians,” the White House readout said.
The top Biden aide also welcomed positive progress on expanded access for Palestinians at Allenby Crossing between the West Bank and Jordan, which Israel announced on Wednesday would begin operating 24/7 late next month.
Israeli security officials have warned in recent months that the PA is losing control of the northern West Bank and has demanded that it crack down on terror throughout the territory. Ramallah has retorted that the regular IDF raids damage its legitimacy and are only further deteriorating the situation beyond the Green Line.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report