US places rare visa travel restrictions on Israeli settlers implicated in West Bank violence
It's considered a rare punishment of Israelis by the US and comes as settler violence is on the rise. The World's Marco Werman spoke with Hadar Susskind, president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, about the history of the settlers and their political influence with current government.
An Israeli flag on the surrounding wall of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Migdalim near the Palestinian town of Nablus, Oct. 25, 2021.
Ariel Schalit/AP/File photo
In a rare move, the Biden administration said it's imposing sanctions and visa travel restrictions on several dozen Israeli citizens. The individuals have been implicated in attacks against Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken had warned that this action was coming. Attacks by Jewish settlers have been on the rise in the West Bank for the last year.
Over many years, these settlements, and continuing construction of them, have been a major sticking point in the effort to reach a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The settlements are illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention.
To find out more about the history of the settlements, The World's host Marco Werman spoke with Hadar Susskind, the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, who spoke from Washington.
Marco Werman: What do you make of this decision by the Biden administration to impose visa bans on this group of Israeli settlers?
Hadar Susskind: I think it's an excellent decision. I think, similarly to people from any other region, from any other country, folks who are engaging in violence, who are engaging in illegal activities like that, frankly, already are, by law, banned from coming to the United States. But making this explicit point is an important one because the Israeli government has largely turned a blind eye away from these attacks. And so, for the US government to call it out and say that this is unacceptable and we need to take action is an important step.
So, the group that's facing sanctions is apparently just a few dozen people. But tell us more about who lives in these West Bank settlements. I mean, we're talking a group of around half a million people, right?
You can break it down into three categories. There are some developments, towns, even really cities, that are over the green line, are in the occupied-Palestinian territories, but have been treated by Israel for many, many years as territories that likely in any eventual solution will be part of Israel. You then have smaller little settlements where you may have a few hundred people living. Again, all of these settlements are illegal under international law. But then, you have settlements that are illegal under even Israeli law, which are referred to as, sort of, the hilltop settlements that are basically wildcat settlements, where people, mostly young people, will go out from some of the established settlements and claim an area. And of course, when I say claim, it is not unowned land, they are simply physically staking out a claim and doing so at gunpoint to land owned by Palestinians.
And what has the Netanyahu government done to address those hilltop settlements that are, as you say, illegal, even in Israeli law?
Little to nothing is, unfortunately, the answer. I mean, the truth is that many of the members of the Netanyahu government are settlers themselves, and they support that movement.
As you said, the settlements go back many years. Let's go back to how it all began. What are the origins of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank?
Well, the origins of the West Bank settlements started in 1967 after the Six Day War, when Israel took over that territory which had been controlled by Jordan. So, shortly thereafter, by, I think, 1968, you began to see some settlements established. And originally, they were small, they were put in what were considered to be strategic places, as a first line of defense against the threat of attacking armies. There were those who from the '60s were already arguing that the settlements were a bad policy that was going to make it more difficult for Israel to ever reach a peace agreement.
Is the idea, though, that for the settlers that if there are more settlements, those routes stick and that would eventually be, in their view, impossible to kick them out?
Oh, clearly that's the settlers' intention. Yes. And there are those who do so from, sort of, ideological political positions like that that they want to lay claim to this land for Israel. And they believe that if they are there and more and more of them are there, that it would be more difficult for any Israeli government to make a peace deal with the Palestinians.
For many years, the US has raised objections to the growth of West Bank settlements, and yet they've continued to grow. Is there another approach the US should be taking?
Right now, there is an effort being discussed, which is the idea of conditioning aid to Israel. We give $4.3 billion in aid to Israel every year, and the government could very easily turn to the Israeli government and say, "OK, here's the condition on our aid. If there are any new settlements or any settlement growth, we will reduce it by X amount." And at that point, Israel is a sovereign country, it's up to them to decide what they want to do, the US can't dictate that. But we can dictate whether or not our tax dollars are going to support those things.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.AP contributed to this report.