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Settler Sanctions and the Liberal International Order

Although US President Joe Biden's new sanctions on Israeli settlers committing violence in the West Bank are in many ways unprecedented, a failure to have enforced international law in this case would have dealt a massive blow to the legitimacy of US global power. But will it be enough?

TORONTO – On February 1, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order imposing sanctions on four Israeli settlers in the West Bank, where extremist violence and property destruction have been rising. That comes after five new rounds of sanctions on Hamas since October 7, and after the sanctioning of financial networks funding the Houthis in December.

Biden’s historic decision to sanction the private citizens of a close ally reflects both domestic and international political pressure. The administration seems to have recognized that Israeli extremist violence, and the settlements themselves, threaten US strategic interests and the broader liberal international order.

Critics of Biden’s “democracy-defense credo” view the Israel-Gaza conflict as another example of him sidestepping the issue driving the conflict: territorial control and sovereignty. It is also worth highlighting that enforcing human rights and the rule of law should be integral to democracy promotion, and shared democratic values underpin US support for Israel, a key ally against Islamist extremism and terrorism. But given Israel’s own democratic backsliding and the high civilian death toll in Gaza, Biden’s unwavering support for Israel reflects a double standard that undermines America’s credibility and global standing.