West Bank: EU could sanction 'violent Israeli settlers'

Expressing concern over rising violence in the West Bank, European Union officials are working with member states to draw up a list of individuals known for "violent activities"

The UN has voiced concern about mounting violence towards Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. Here, a confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis with the Israel Defense Forces intervening is being filmed (photo: DW)
The UN has voiced concern about mounting violence towards Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. Here, a confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis with the Israel Defense Forces intervening is being filmed (photo: DW)


The European Union will draw up proposals to sanction Israeli settlers perpetrating violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, in line with a recent initiative by the United States, the bloc's top diplomat said on Monday, 11 December.

"I believe the time has come to swap words for action… to take the measures that we can take with regard to acts of violence against Palestinian people in the West Bank," the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, told reporters after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

The West Bank is one of two Palestinian territories, along with the Gaza Strip, that has been under military occupation by Israel since the end of the Six-Day War in 1967.

Violence has surged there ever since the October 7 attacks by the militant Islamist Palestinian group Hamas in southern Israel that killed 1,200 people. The retaliatory Israeli military campaign has now killed over 18,000 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Hamas controls Gaza and is deemed a terrorist organisation by the US, the EU and some other nations.

However, while the world's gaze is largely trained on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, hundreds of Palestinians have also been killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the past two months, according to the UN.

What is happening in the West Bank right now?

Non-governmental organisations and UN agencies have been warning for weeks of spiralling violence, but even before the conflict in Gaza, this year had already been a bloody one in the West Bank.

On Sunday, 10 December, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territories, Lynn Hastings, said that 2023 had seen "unprecedented levels of Israeli state and settler violence against Palestinians" in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem.

Of the 464 Palestinians killed in the West Bank this year, only 265 (so a little over half) were killed since October 7, Hastings noted in a written statement. 'At least three (of those) killed were disabled,' she wrote, 'and at least 1,000 people have been forcibly displaced from their land, citing settler violence and the inability to access their land.'

Data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also revealed 28 Israelis had died in clashes in the West Bank between January and the end of November this year, most of them Jewish settlers.

What could the EU do?

Borrell said that EU officials were now working together with member states to draw up a list of individuals known for "violent activities and their attacks against the Palestinians in the West Bank".

He also condemned the Israeli government for approving the construction of new housing units in Jerusalem, which he said contradicted international law.

On Monday, Borrell said the necessary unanimity among all EU states for sanctions to be applied was yet to be established, since there was not yet an official proposal for states to review.

A number of EU states have already expressed support for sanctioning violent settlers in recent days, however, including France and even Germany, one of Israel's most emphatic backers in the EU since 7 October.

In a letter dated Friday, 8 December, and addressed to European Council president Charles Michel, the governments of Belgium, Ireland, Malta and Spain also proposed imposing travel bans and asset freezes on "violent settlers who are attacking and displacing Palestinian communities".

"We must avoid escalation in the West Bank", the four states urged in the text, seen by DW.

How and why did the US sanction Israeli settlers?

Last week, the US announced it would impose travel bans on "dozens" of individuals and possibly also their family members.

"The United States will pursue visa restrictions against individuals involved in or meaningfully contributing to the undermining of peace, security or stability in the West Bank," US state department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters last Tuesday, 5 December. The measure could apply to either Israelis or Palestinians, he noted.

Even Israel's close allies in the United States and the European Union have condemned West Bank settlements, seeing their presence as 'counterproductive to a permanent two-state solution'. 'The construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem is increasingly jeopardising the territorial basis for a future Palestinian state', a 2020 assessment by the German government had said.

Israel's settlement policy in both Gaza and the West Bank does, of course, constitute occupation of another country in international law.

How many Israeli settlers live in the West Bank?

Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, though parts of it are governed by the Palestinian Authority. The overwhelming majority of the international community never recognised Israeli claims over the territory, but Israelis started building settlements there in the 1970s and 1980s.

Settlements in the occupied West Bank are classified by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the United Nations as illegal under international law.

Israel has always disputed that the practice is against international law, and the current right-wing coalition government has even vowed to step up the settlement of the West Bank.

As of 2021, there were 465,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, which has an overall population of more than 3 million, according to figures compiled by the Israeli non-governmental organisation Peace Now. The West Bank population is now 86 per cent Palestinian and 14 per cent Israeli, and settlers make up 5 per cent of Israel's total population. On top of this, there were 230,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem as of 2020.

Some Israelis claim such settlements are necessary for 'security reasons' or assert historic rights to the land.

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Published: 12 Dec 2023, 8:35 AM