Biden’s Sanctions On Israeli Settlers: A Bold Move Or Blunder? – OpEd


The executive order issued by Biden has identified four Israeli settlers who would promptly face penalties. These sanctions include imposing financial and travel limitations as a means to address instances of “extremist settler violence, forced displacement of individuals and communities, and destruction of property.” If these penalties are implemented rigorously, they may disrupt the network of transactions that supports settler violence and perhaps restrict the financial support provided by US organizations and people to extremist settlements.

Biden claims that the ally’s inherent right to protect its interests justifies the unusual action he has ordered against America’s closest Middle Eastern partner. The penalties are imposed according to an executive order that encompasses any foreign person determined to have orchestrated or engaged in acts of violence against Palestinian citizens, including intimidation, terrorism, and the destruction and confiscation of property. The injunction may even be extended to include Israeli leaders or government officials who are found to have directly or indirectly participated in such acts of violence.

The directive is a reaction to the escalating Israeli settler aggression against Palestinians in the West Bank, which has heightened within the Israel-Hamas conflict that began on October 7, 2023. According to Palestinian officials, there have been casualties among Palestinians, and rights organizations have reported incidents of settlers setting vehicles on fire and assaulting several tiny Bedouin settlements, resulting in the need for evacuations. However, the Democratic president has urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration to exercise more self-control in its military endeavors to eliminate Hamas. 

On January 26, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an order to Israel, instructing them to take measures to avoid acts of genocide. South Africa filed a lawsuit, which resulted in this decision. It is worth noting that this decision contradicted the claims made by Biden and Blinken, who dismissed the case as lacking validity. In December, CNN discovered that US intelligence knows that the weapons used by Israel in Gaza have a significant potential for causing harm to non-combatant individuals. The legal representatives of South Africa presented particular weapons as evidence of genocide, while also emphasizing that some munitions were provided by the Biden Administration, bypassing the need for legislative permission. The ICJ ruling implied that President Joe Biden may be implicated in a potential genocide on a global scale. However, while experiencing a situation that should have been humiliating, Biden continued to demonstrate unwavering support for Israel.

One factor that could have an impact on the 2024 US presidential election is how the Biden administration handled the Israel-Hamas conflict that broke out in October 2023. Several Muslim and Arab voters, who have historically backed the Democratic Party, have voiced their dissatisfaction with Biden’s position on the issue, which they regard as favoring Israel and showing indifference towards the suffering of the Palestinians. Several individuals have gone as far as to issue threats of withdrawing their support for Biden and the Democrats in the next election or even choosing to abstain from voting entirely. Nevertheless, the conflict likely influenced the political inclinations and perspectives of some Muslim and Arab voters, particularly those with significant connections to the Palestinian cause or the wider Muslim community.

The conflict might potentially influence the political results in several crucial swing states, where the sizable Muslim and Arab communities have the potential to sway the outcome of closely contested contests. One such example is in Michigan, a state where Biden secured a victory with a tiny margin of 2.8% in 2020. A significant portion of the population resides in Wayne County, including cities like Detroit and Dearborn. In the 2020 election, Biden achieved a resounding victory with 68.4% of the vote. Nevertheless, several Muslim and Arab leaders inside the nation have cautioned that Biden’s Israel policy may jeopardize their support for him in 2024. They have implored him to embrace a more equitable and compassionate approach to the problem.

The response to the decision has varied, with Palestinian leaders and human rights advocates expressing approval. They argue that the step is necessary to ensure Israeli settlers are held responsible for their crimes and to discourage future acts of violence. Additionally, they anticipate that it would facilitate the emergence of increased global scrutiny of Israel, urging them to cease their occupation of the Palestinian lands. Extremist ministers in the Israeli government, who have actively promoted the expansion of the nation’s settlement project, have nevertheless harshly criticized it.

The national security minister of the country, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is also a settler, expressed his disagreement with Biden’s views on the residents of Israel and the settlements and called on the administration to reconsider its policies. Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, who lives in a West Bank settlement, categorically rejected the concept of settler violence as an unfounded accusation rooted in anti-Semitism. He expressed his commitment to furthering the expansion of Israeli settlements, notwithstanding their violation of international law.

The directive is also seen as an indication of Biden’s dedication to a two-state resolution and a more equitable approach to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Nevertheless, recent polls indicate that Biden is now lagging behind Trump or other prospective Republican contenders, such as former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, in some national and state-level surveys. An NBC News and Hart Research Associates/Public Opinion Strategies survey conducted in January 2024 revealed that Biden had 42% support from registered voters, while Trump received 47% support. Independent candidate Joe Kennedy III secured 1% support.

The declining position of Biden in the polls highlights the growing pressure on the current US president to take a different stance on the Israel problem. This suggests that the diplomatic rhetoric emphasizing the significance of establishing a Palestinian state may have some degree of sincerity. The intentions behind the sanctions, however, lack essential quality. Biden can tackle the urgent situation in Gaza, but instead, he has opted to implement punitive measures in the West Bank, opting for an evasive approach rather than a genuine resolution. Critics argue that the penalties just serve as a superficial display of fake unity with Palestinians, and they are also improbable in achieving their primary objective, such as influencing Arab-American voters and young Democrat supporters who want a cessation of hostilities.

Biden has articulated his dedication to promoting peace in the Middle East; however, he confronts several obstacles and limitations in pursuing this objective. Under these conditions, Biden can collaborate with regional and global allies, including Egypt, Qatar, the United Nations, and the European Union, to promote and mediate discussions and talks among the involved parties. Biden can persist in applying pressure on Israel to adhere to the cease-fire and abstain from steps that may exacerbate the situation. Biden can effectively communicate with all parties involved to tackle the fundamental factors contributing to the conflict, including the Israeli occupation, the establishment of settlements, and the blockade of Gaza. Nevertheless, these activities need political determination and conciliation from all parties concerned.

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma

Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma is a Research Associate at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD). She is a research analyst in security studies. She obtained her Master's and Bachelor's in International Relations from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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