Biden silent on whether ‘West Bank’ sanctions extend to Jerusalem

The ambiguity around the executive order is heightening concerns among Republicans in Congress.

By Adam Kredo, The Washington Free Beacon

The Biden administration will not say if its decision to impose sanctions on Israelis it accuses of committing human rights abuses in the West Bank will apply to those living in Jerusalem, leaving open the possibility that Jews living in Israel’s capital city will be targeted with punitive measures.

Congressional Republicans who are concerned the Biden administration is quietly working to erode Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem are raising questions about the scope of the White House’s February executive order, which only referred to the “West Bank.”

The order itself is vaguely worded, referring only to those living in the West Bank, but could include areas of East Jerusalem, undermining Israeli sovereignty over the city and walking back the United States’ 2020 recognition of Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s undivided capital. Neighborhoods in East Jerusalem could fall under the administration’s definition of the West Bank but would signal the United States does not view the entirety of the city as being under Israeli control, which has been America’s official policy since the former Trump administration’s declaration.

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The State Department declined to answer Washington Free Beacon questions about whether the sanctions apply to Jerusalem, telling a reporter, “we would refer you to the [executive order] text on the White House’s website.” The White House National Security Council also declined to answer questions about the executive order.

The ambiguity around the executive order is heightening concerns among Republicans in Congress that the administration is taking a new stance on Israel’s borders. It also shows the bind the administration is in with far left activists in the Democratic Party who have been pushing Biden to soften his support for Israel since Hamas’s terror attack that left 1,200 civilians dead and more injured.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) asked the White House on Tuesday to clarify the executive order, giving the administration a week to respond to his inquiry.

“Your recent executive order targets Israelis with sanctions who are ‘in the West Bank.’ Does this phrase include Jerusalem? If so, what parts of Jerusalem?” Cotton asked. “Where are the borders within Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, that you are using for purposes of implementing the executive order?”

The senator told the Free Beacon on Wednesday that it is “a simple question that I hope the administration can answer clearly and promptly.”

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“Does Joe Biden consider Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, to be part of the West Bank in his recent executive order?” Cotton asked.

One senior Republican congressional aide said the sanctions were left intentionally vague by the White House so that it could avoid answering the types of questions posed by Cotton.

“The Biden administration wants maximum uncertainty about their executive order, because that way they get to chill Jewish activity across Israel and its territories without having to own it,” said the source, who has been closely tracking the matter but could not speak on record. “If they came out and said they’re rejecting Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem they’d have to defend their policy. This way they get all the benefits of attacking Israel while still having plausible deniability.”

Recent reports indicate that another round of sanctions on West Bank Israelis are set to be introduced in the coming weeks.

The White House announced the initial round of sanctions earlier this month, following mounting pressure from far-left lawmakers and activist groups that accuse Israeli citizens of committing crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank area.

Critics saw the sanctions as an attempt by the White House to appease anti-Israel activists in the Democratic Party who want the United States to pressure Israel into inking a ceasefire with the Hamas terror group, which committed the worst terror attack in Israel’s history on Oct. 7, 2023.

In announcing the sanctions, President Joe Biden said the United States sees evidence of “high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages, and property destruction,” incidents that have “reached intolerable levels and constitutes a serious threat to the peace, security, and stability of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel.”

The alleged incidents, Biden said, “constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” and warranted “national emergency” declaration “to deal with that threat.”