US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new policy on Tuesday to prevent extremist Israeli settlers responsible for violence in the West Bank from coming to the United States.
"Today, the State Department is implementing a new visa restriction policy targeting individuals believed to have been involved in undermining peace, security, or stability in the West Bank, including through committing acts of violence or taking other actions that unduly restrict civilians’ access to essential services and basic necessities," Blinken said in a statement. "Immediate family members of such persons also may be subject to these restrictions," he added.
The State Department will be able to apply the policy to both Israelis and Palestinians who are responsible for attacks in the West Bank, Blinken said.
Blinken did not name any individuals who would be subject to the visa restrictions, nor did he say how many would be included in the initial tranche of restrictions.
The new policy is expected "to impact dozens of individuals and potentially their family members," State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Tuesday.
"Any Israeli citizen who currently has a visa to enter the United States will be notified that that visa has been revoked," Miller said.
"Any other Israeli citizen who is designated as a result of this program, but does not currently have a visa, will not be notified. If they want to travel to the United States and they apply through ESTA, which is the way that it works if you're currently a Visa Waiver Program Country, that application will be rejected," he said.
The background: Administration officials have signaled for weeks that they would take such action as violence in the West Bank has intensified in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack.
In his engagements with Israeli officials since that attack, Blinken has called on the Netanyahu government to do more to hold the settlers responsible for the violence accountable.
"As President Biden has repeatedly said, those attacks are unacceptable. Last week in Israel, I made clear that the United States is ready to take action using our own authorities," the top US diplomat reiterated in his statement Tuesday.
"We will continue to seek accountability for all acts of violence against civilians in the West Bank, regardless of the perpetrator or the victim," Blinken said.
Blinken said that the US will continue to engage with Israeli leadership to "make clear that Israel must take additional measures to protect Palestinian civilians from extremist attacks."
The secretary of state also said the US will continue to "engage the Palestinian Authority to make clear it must do more to curb Palestinian attacks against Israelis," he said, noting that leaders in Israel and those with the Palestinian Authority "have the responsibility to uphold stability in the West Bank. Instability in the West Bank both harms the Israeli and Palestinian people and threatens Israel’s national security interests. Those responsible for it must be held accountable."
Benny Gantz, Israel war cabinet member and former defense minister, on Tuesday cautioned the US against its rhetoric referring to extremist Israeli settlers responsible for violence in the West Bank, and urged the international community not to use the term "settler violence."
During a news conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, Gantz responded to a question about the US policy, saying: "Concerning the US sanctions, I repeatedly ask everyone, also from my American counterparts, not to use the term ‘settler violence,’ because it does not represent the citizens of Israel. It does not represent the residents of the communities in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], 99% of them are normative and abide the law."
This post has been updated with comments from Benny Gantz.
Tamar Michaelis contributed to this report.