Israel-Palestine war: US issues visa ban on Israeli settlers who attacked Palestinians
"We have underscored to the Israeli government the need to do more to hold accountable extremist settlers who have committed violent attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
"We will continue to seek accountability for all acts of violence against civilians in the West Bank, regardless of the perpetrator or the victim. We also continue to engage with the Israeli leadership to make clear that Israel must take additional measures to protect Palestinian civilians from extremist attacks."
Immediate family members of those sanctioned would also be subject to the visa ban.
The new policy will also be extended to Palestinians who have engaged in violence against Israelis. The announcement comes as the US has for months warned of increased Israeli settler violence in the West Bank.
There has been a surge in Israeli settler violence against Palestinians in recent weeks. More than 100 Palestinians have been killed in these attacks, following the 7 October Hamas-led assault on southern Israel, which killed 1,200 Israelis, according to the government's death toll.
The UN humanitarian office reported on 1 November that the number of settler attacks against Palestinians per day has doubled, in incidents ranging from livestock theft to direct physical violence.
Palestinian residents in the West Bank previously told Middle East Eye that the settler attacks have been "fierce", with one family having to flee to a nearby town after settlers destroyed their farm buildings and bulldozed their home.
'Extremist violence must stop'
US President Joe Biden has refrained from overt criticism of Israel's military response to the 7 October assault, which has included an aerial bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza that has killed more than 16,000 Palestinians so far, according to figures from the Palestinian health ministry.
However, his administration has been critical of Israel's settlement expansion and settler violence in the occupied West Bank.
"I have been emphatic with Israel's leaders that extremist violence against Palestinians in the West Bank must stop and that those committing the violence must be held accountable," Biden wrote in an op-ed published in the Washington Post in November.
Israel has occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the 1967 Middle East War. Under international law, settlements built on occupied land are considered illegal.
The Israeli government, however, differentiates between settlements that are permitted by the defence ministry, and outposts, those built without Israeli government permits. In recent years, settlers have expanded the construction of those outposts and have pushed for their recognition.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has approved a record number of outposts in the occupied West Bank. His government includes two pro-settler ministers who support annexing the Palestinian territory.
Netanyahu handed over settlement planning approval in the West Bank to Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, who is himself a settler.
In the West Bank, nearly 500,000 settlers currently live among a population of three million Palestinians.
Tuesday's announcement from the State Department also comes roughly two months after the US accepted Israel into its coveted visa waiver programme, giving Israeli citizens visa-free travel into the US for up to 90 days. US citizens will be given the same privilege when travelling to Israel.
The decision was met with outrage from rights groups, lawmakers and Palestinian activists, who say Israel is discriminating against different groups of Americans travelling to the country.