28th Feb 2024

EU edging toward first-ever sanctions on Israeli settlers

  • Israeli soldiers on patrol in Hebron in the occupied West Bank (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)
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EU countries are preparing new sanctions against extremist Israeli settlers as well as Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The proposed EU visa ban on violent Israeli settlers is being discussed by human rights and Middle East expert-groups in the EU Council.

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"There was listings input [lists of proposed Israeli names] from a number of member states, led by France. So yes, there is backing," an EU diplomat said.

"It's in the works, but likely not ready for the EU foreign ministers' meeting", which is due on Monday (22 January), he added.

"It's moving ahead," a second EU diplomat said.

The plan is to add a dozen or so settlers' names to an EU blacklist of international human rights pariahs, which already includes Russian murderers, Chinese torturers, and African warlords.

Israel's EU allies, such as the Czech republic and Hungary, have in the past vetoed European criticism of Israel. Germany has also shielded Israel.

But this time the stakes are higher due to the Gaza war, amid Western fears of West Bank as well as wider regional escalation.

And Israel's main ally, the US, paved the way in December by imposing its own first-ever extremist settler travel ban.

Israeli forces have killed over 300 Palestinians, including 80 children, in the West Bank in the past three months. Violent settlers killed at least eight Palestinians.

Israel has also killed over 24,000 Palestinians in Gaza, in response to a raid by Hamas on 7 October, which killed some 1,200 Israelis and kidnapped 200 others.

The EU had already designated Hamas as a terrorist entity in 2003.

But it is now planning to add extra layers of sanctions on the Palestinian militants in tandem with the anti-Israeli settler move.

"These [Hamas] measures target individuals and ban money transfers," said French foreign ministry spokesman Christophe Lemoine in Paris on Thursday.

The EU foreign ministers are expected to agree on the Hamas move next week, while holding further talks on the upcoming settler-ban, Lemoine added.

"The sequence would be first the Hamas [sanctions], then later the violent settlers," an EU diplomat said.

EU foreign ministers will also discuss sending warships to the Red Sea to help fight the Houthi rebel group in Yemen, which began attacking world merchant shipping in sympathy with Gaza.

The EU machinations come amid competing narratives on the war.

Israel says the Hamas attack on 7 October was due to antisemitic indoctrination by extremist Islamist groups.

But the US and EU spotlight on Israeli settlers feeds another view — that it was also due to Israel's occupation regime.

Meanwhile, if the West was currying favour with Arabs, Muslims, or the Global South, by taking novel steps on Israel, then it shouldn't expect too much "fanfare" in return, said H. A. Hellyer, a Middle East security expert at the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank in the UK.

More than 700,000 Israeli settlers have stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since Israel conquered the territories in a 1967 war.

"The EU would have to take steps on all settlers for it to be viewed with any degree of seriousness," Hellyer said.

Speaking of the EU's new Hamas sanctions, he added: "Stopping another 7 October, in the final analysis, means changing the political context in which it took place."

"We didn't think we could stop violence in Northern Ireland without addressing the underlying political situation and putting in a process to do so," Hellyer said.

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