Feb 12, 2024 - World

Scoop: Bibi protests to Biden, criticizes order targeting Israeli settler violence

President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photos: Win McNamee and Sean Gallup/Getty Images

President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photos: Win McNamee and Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his call with President Biden on Sunday protested and criticized Biden's recent executive order that paved the way for sanctions on Israeli settlers involved in attacks against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, an Israeli official and a source briefed on the call told Axios.

Why it matters: Netanyahu's initial response to Biden's executive order was very mild. But his protest to Biden this weekend signals he increasingly believes the order, which also allows sanctions on Israeli officials directly or indirectly involved in settler violence, could have unprecedented implications for the entire settlements enterprise in the West Bank.

Catch up quick: Biden's order, which was issued two weeks ago, is the most significant move by any U.S. administration against settler violence in the occupied West Bank and signaled the White House's determination that Netanyahu and his government weren't seriously tackling the issue.

  • Since Oct. 7, the UN aid office (OCHA) has recorded more than 515 attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians. In those attacks, Israeli settlers have killed at least eight Palestinians and injured dozens of others, according to OCHA.

Under Biden's executive order, Blinken announced sanctions against four Israeli settlers the U.S. said were involved in attacks in the West Bank.

  • Several days later, three Israeli banks announced they were suspending the settlers' bank accounts to comply with the new sanctions.
  • Israel's ultranationalist Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called on Israeli banks to not implement the new U.S. sanctions and asked the Ministry of Finance to look for ways to circumvent them.

Behind the scenes: During Sunday's phone call, Netanyahu told Biden he doesn't understand why the president made the decision to issue the executive order when there's been a decrease in the number of attacks by settlers since the Israeli government took action against the violence, the sources said.

  • Netanyahu said the Israeli government took serious steps to tackle violence by extremist settlers, including issuing several administrative detention orders against Israeli settlers.
  • He also said he asked the Minister for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer to prepare a list of requests for clarification from the U.S. about the executive order and its possible implications.
  • The Prime Minister's Office declined to comment. The White House didn't immediately respond to questions on the issue.

The big picture: The U.K. announced on Monday it is joining the U.S. and imposing sanctions on the four Israel settlers the Biden administration took action against under the executive order.

  • "Extremist Israeli settlers are threatening Palestinians, often at gunpoint, and forcing them off land that is rightfully theirs. This behaviour is illegal and unacceptable," British Foreign Minister David Cameron said.
  • Cameron added Israel must take stronger action to stop settler violence and stressed that too often, the Israeli government isn't following through on its commitments to tackle the issue.

Go deeper... More from Sunday's Biden-Bibi call:

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