US imposes sanctions on far-right Israeli group over West Bank violence

By Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on a far-right Israeli group and four unauthorized West Bank outposts, in the latest move by the Biden administration aimed at those the U.S. says undermine stability in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Washington, which also targeted three Israeli individuals with sanctions, urged the Israeli government to take action to hold extremists to account for actions that Washington believes set back hopes for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.

Thursday's sanctions targeted Israeli non-profit Lehava, which opposes Jewish assimilation with non-Jews and agitates against Arabs in the name of religion and national security.

The Biden administration said Lehava's members have engaged in repeated acts of violence against Palestinians.

The group's founder and leader Ben-Zion Gopstein had been designated previously by the United States, and Britain has also hit Lehava with sanctions.

The U.S. also imposed sanctions on four unauthorized outposts in the West Bank that the State Department said were "weaponized" for violence to displace Palestinians, such as disrupting grazing lands, limiting access to water wells and launching violent attacks on neighboring Palestinians.

One of the outposts is a farm owned by Isaschar Manne, which the State Department said "was established on pastureland belonging to the Palestinian community, and settlers from this outpost regularly attack community shepherds and prevent their access to pastureland through acts of violence."

Two other Israelis were sanctioned for being leaders of Tsav 9, a previously sanctioned group that attacked convoys carrying humanitarian aid bound for civilians in Gaza, it said.

The move bars Americans from dealing with the targeted individuals and entities, and freezes any U.S. assets they hold. It was unclear if any of the targets hold such assets.


"The United States remains deeply concerned about extremist violence and instability in the West Bank, which undermines Israel’s own security," State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement.

"We strongly encourage the government of Israel to take immediate steps to hold these individuals and entities accountable. In the absence of such steps, we will continue to impose our own accountability measures."

The Biden administration's moves against Israeli settlers have upset far-right members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition, who support the expansion of Jewish settlements and ultimately the annexation of the West Bank, which Palestinians want as part of a future state.

Gopstein, the most prominent Israeli figure targeted by U.S. sanctions, is a close associate of and has ties to Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who himself lives in a West Bank settlement.

Since the 1967 Middle East war Israel has occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River, which Palestinians want as the core of an independent state. It has built Jewish settlements there that most countries deem illegal. Israel disputes this and cites historical and Biblical ties to the land.

In February, the Biden administration said settlements were inconsistent with international law, signaling a return to long-standing U.S. policy on the issue that had been reversed by the previous administration of Donald Trump.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Simon Lewis and Susan Heavey; Editing by Mark Heinrich and David Holmes)