File Photo: Biden condemns Israeli settlers attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank. WAFA
Biden said the attacks by “extremist settlers” amounted to “pouring gasoline” on the already burning fires in the Middle East.
“It has to stop. They have to be held accountable. It has to stop now,” Biden said at the start of a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who was being honoured with a state visit to Washington.
Settler terrorism against Palestinians has intensified since the beginning of the year, killing a number of Palestinians. Rights groups say settlers have torched cars and attacked several small Bedouin communities, forcing them to evacuate to other areas.
The United Nations warned in August of a dramatic rise in West Bank terrorist settler attacks on Palestinian people and property, with nearly 600 such incidents registered so far this year.
These assaults encompassed direct attacks on individuals, property vandalism, land leveling, village storming, tree uprooting, and property confiscation.
Arming terrorist settlers
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir announced that his ministry is purchasing 10,000 rifles to arm civilian security teams, specifically those in towns close to Israel’s borders around the country, as well as mixed Jewish-Arab cities and West Bank settlements.
The minister, who heads the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, said 4,000 assault rifles had already been acquired from an Israeli manufacturer and will be distributed immediately, while also relaxing gun licence rules.
Helmets and bulletproof vests have also been acquired and will be distributed along with the assault rifles.
Municipalities are organising self-defence training classes and citizen security groups are being formed.
The West Bank Protection Consortium, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations and donor countries, including the European Union, says hundreds of Palestinians have been forcibly displaced in the occupied West Bank due to settler violence, which intensified since 7 October. That’s in addition to over 1,100 displaced since 2022.
Deadly violence has been surging in the West Bank as the Israeli occupation army pursues Palestinians amidst the war in Gaza.
Biden also said that after the Israeli aggression on Gaza comes to an end, Israelis, Palestinians and their partners must work toward a two-state solution.
“Israelis and Palestinians equally deserve to live side by side in safety, dignity and peace,” Biden said, adding, “When this crisis is over, there has to be a vision of what comes next. And in our view, it has to be a two-state solution.”
Biden emphasized that point during a Wednesday afternoon call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling the Israeli PM it will be important to focus “on what comes after this crisis” including “a pathway for a permanent peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” according to a White House statement.
The leaders also discussed ongoing efforts to locate and free the more than 200 captives that Hamas and other militant groups captured, the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, and ensuring safe passage for foreign nationals looking to leave the strip.
The Palestinian Health Ministry says Israel killed more than 6,500 Palestinians in Gaza and 1,900 are missing.
But the US president cast doubt on the figure. ‘I have no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed. I’m sure innocents have been killed, and it’s a price of waging war. But I have no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using,’ he said.
Biden also said he has not directly sought assurances from Netanyahu that Israel will hold off on an expected ground invasion into Gaza before hostages can be released.
“What I have indicated to him is that if that’s possible, to get these folks out safely, that’s what he should do. It’s their decision,” Biden said at a news conference at the White House. “But I did not demand it. I pointed out to him, that if it’s real, it should be done.”
Biden also said Wednesday that he warned Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, that if Tehran continues to “move against” U.S. forces in the Middle East, “we will respond.” American bases in Iraq and Syria have been targeted recently by drone and rocket attacks, and Iranian-backed militias have threatened to attack U.S. facilities because of American support for Israel.