US President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Thursday that aims to punish Jewish settlers who attack Palestinians in the occupied West Bank following the Oct 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel.
Biden's order establishes a system for imposing financial sanctions and visa restrictions against individuals who are found to have attacked or intimidated Palestinians or seized their property, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
"Today’s actions seek to promote peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike," he said.
United Nations figures show that daily settler attacks have more than doubled in the nearly four months since the Hamas attack and Israel's ensuing assault on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
The order freezes any US assets of those targeted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them. The State Department on Thursday also planned to announce the first four individuals hit by the order, two senior Biden administration officials told reporters.
Biden and other senior US officials have warned repeatedly that Israel must act to stop violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank.
"These actions pose a grave threat to peace, security, stability in the West Bank, Israel and the Middle East region, and they also obstruct the realisation of ultimately an independent Palestinian state existing side by side with the state of Israel," one of the senior officials said.
Biden has raised the issue directly with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the official said, as Biden seeks a path to a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians once the Gaza conflict ends.
The West Bank, among the territories where Palestinians seek statehood along with Gaza, has experienced a surge of violence in recent months amid expanding Jewish settlements and a nearly decade-old impasse in US-sponsored peacemaking.
Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right pro-settlement party Religious Zionism, was defiant in a statement on the Biden order:
"The 'settler violence' campaign is an antisemitic lie that enemies of Israel disseminate with the goal of smearing the pioneering settlers and settlement enterprise, and to harm them and thus smear the entire State of Israel," Smotrich said.
In December, the United States began imposing visa bans on people involved in violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Since the 1967 Middle East war, Israel has occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River, which Palestinians want as the core of an independent state. It has built Jewish settlements there that most countries deem illegal. Israel disputes this and cites historical and biblical ties to the land.
An Israeli government spokesman said in December that the country condemns any vigilantism or hooliganism or attempts by individuals to take the law into their own hands.
Hamas fighters killed 1,200 people and captured 253 hostages on Oct 7, precipitating an Israeli offensive that has laid waste to much of Gaza. Health officials in the enclave said on Thursday the confirmed death toll had risen above 27,000, with thousands more dead still lying under the rubble.