France has joined the UK and Belgium in banning violent Israeli settlers, but it might take an Israeli attack on Rafah before EU-level action.
France imposed a national entry ban on 28 Israeli settlers on Tuesday (13 February), whom its foreign ministry said were “guilty of violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank”.
It didn’t name them, but warned of a surge in aggression in the West Bank since the Gaza war began and said settlers were “incompatible with the creation of a viable Palestinian state” after the war ends.
Belgium has also imposed a travel ban on extremist Israeli settlers, its state secretary for asylum and migration confirmed to EUobserver in January.
Belgium didn’t name them or say how many it banned.
The French announcement came as Israel prepares to attack Rafah in southern Gaza, where Israel has kettled 1.4 million Palestinian refugees and where Israeli air-strikes have killed dozens of people since the weekend.
The EU and US have urged Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to go ahead, using strident terms.
The UK joined France in putting pressure on Israel by imposing a visa ban and asset-freeze on four Israeli settlers also on Tuesday.
Britain named them — Moshe Sharvit, Yinon Levi, Zvi Bar Yosef, and Ely Federman. Bar Yosef, for instance, was guilty of “twice threatening at gunpoint young [Palestinian] families having a picnic”, the British foreign ministry said.
And even Israel’s staunchest ally, the US, publicly blacklisted four Israeli settlers on 1 February, in wider efforts to cool Netanyahu’s belligerence.
France, Belgium, and the Netherlands are pushing for an EU-level ban on 12 extremist settlers on grounds of egregious human-rights abuses.
Meanwhile, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain are the member states most critical of Netanyahu’s conduct of the Gaza war, in which Israel has killed some 28,500 Palestinians, most of them children and women.
Israel’s EU critics haven’t imposed national-level bans on the French or Belgian model in favour of a collective European move, diplomats said.
But Israel’s old EU allies, the Czech republic and Hungary, are refusing to even talk about this in the EU Council for the time being, meaning it’s unlikely to be in place when EU foreign ministers next meet to take big decisions — in Brussels on 19 February.
The Czechs have signalled they might change their mind, if the EU made clear Israeli settlers were not morally equivalent to Hamas when compiling the blacklist.
The Gaza war came after Palestinian group Hamas, which rules Gaza, killed some 1,200 Israelis and took around 200 hostages on 7 October last year.
The Hungarian veto would be easier for the rest of the EU to break if Budapest stood alone, one EU diplomat said.
The Czechs and Hungarians would also come under more pressure to back down in the event of a devastating Israeli assault on Rafah, the EU source added.
The EU would “definitely” impose the settler blacklist if there was such an escalation, the diplomat said.
The EU is drafting a long-term pace plan with Arab states, including Egypt and Jordan, based on a two-state solution.
But there are fears Netanyahu might seize control of Gaza after forcing out Palestinians in massive numbers.
The Israeli settler population in the West Bank jumped to 517,407 in 2023 from 502,991 in 2022, according to a report based on Israeli government figures published on Sunday.
The West Bank-settler population grew by 15 percent over the past five years and would pass 600,000 before 2030, the report said.
About 200,000 more settlers also live in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.