National Security Council
10:27 A.M. EST
MODERATOR: Hi, everyone. Good morning, and thanks for joining today’s call on measures to address actions that undermine peace, security, and stability in the West Bank.
As a reminder, this call is on background, attributable to senior administration officials, and it is embargoed until noon today.
For your awareness, not for your reporting, on the call today we have [senior administration official] and [senior administration official]. They’ll have a few words at the top, and then we’ll turn it over to Q&A.
[Senior administration official], I’ll turn it over to you to kick us off.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, everybody. I will — let me give a topper on this, and then I’ll turn it over to my colleague for a little more detail on the executive order that will be issued today.
So, President Biden has been clear that the United States strongly supports Israel’s right to defend itself following the horrific terrorist attacks that occurred October 7th and in its effort to defeat Hamas and to make sure that we can never, ever again see a day like October 7th.
And we are taking a holistic approach to this entire crisis, not just in Gaza, but the larger context — Israel, Gaza, West Bank, and the larger region.
I think the President spoke to this today at the prayer breakfast, if you look at his remarks, about actively working for peace, security, dignity for the Israeli people and the Palestinian people, and an enduring peace. What he is working on every single day — an enduring peace, which ultimately includes two states for two peoples.
So the steps we’ve taken include — one of the tools include financial sanctions. So this includes taking steps to cut off Hamas’s access to international financial systems. And since October 7th, of course, we have issued, I think, five rounds of sanctions against Hamas, including the most recent round of sanctions against Hamas just last week.
The President has also spoken about his concern repeatedly and consistently, publicly and also in almost every diplomatic conversation he has with Israeli leaders, about the rise in violence that we have seen in the West Bank from extremist actors.
And these actions pose a grave threat to peace, security, stability in the West Bank, Israel, and the Middle East region. And they also obstruct the realization of, ultimately, an independent Palestinian state existing side by side with the State of Israel, and by extension, the enduring peace and stability for Palestinians and Israelis alike, which, again, the President spoke to just this morning.
The President has raised these issues, again, repeatedly, consistently, not only with Prime Minister Netanyahu but including on his visit to Israel at the beginning of the crisis, and regularly, including in his visit to Israel and to Bethlehem in the summer of 2022.
And senior administration officials are engaged in this daily and regularly, including our team on the ground. And General Mike Fenzel, who’s the head of our U.S. security — our U.S. security coordinator.
So, in November, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan issued a cabinet memo, and he directed departments and agencies to take appropriate action and to develop policy options for further action against the actors responsible for this conduct and violence in the West Bank.
And in December, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced visa restrictions on individuals contributing to actions that undermine peace, security, and stability in the West Bank.
So, following on these measures, today President Biden is signing a new executive order to implement a set of new measures to address actions that undermine peace, stability — security, stability in the West Bank.
And under this new EO, the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Treasury, in consultation with one another, have the ability to sanction foreign nationals engaged in actions that include the directing or participating in acts or threats of violence against civilians, intimidating civilians to cause them to leave their homes, destroying or seizing property, and acts of terrorism.
These actions include, as I mentioned, directing or participating in acts of or threats of violence against civilians; intimidation; destroying, seizing property; or terrorism.
And today, I think we’ll kind of — and I’ll describe in general terms what you’ll see later today — but the State Department will be announcing an initial set of designations under this new EO. And these designations include individuals that have directly perpetrated violence and those who have engaged in repeated acts of intimidation, property destruction, leading to the forced displacement of Palestinian communities.
I would just emphasize also this EO is non-discriminatory. It applies to Israelis and Palestinians alike. It applies to foreign nationals and those who are engaged in acts of violence on the West Bank and undermining stability there. And of course, we continue to go after, through sanctions and other means, designated terrorist groups, whether Gaza, the West Bank, or throughout the region.
So just to kind of put a little bit of a descriptive nature of the types of activities that we’re talking about here:
Later today, the State Department will issue the initial round of designations under this new EO. And without getting into names, the types of activities — for example, one individual initiated and led a riot, which involves setting vehicles and buildings on fire, assaulting civilians, causing damage to property, which resulted actually, in that incident, in the death of a Palestinian civilian.
Another individual assaulting farmers and as well as Israeli activists. Direct attacks with stones and clubs, resulting in injuries that required medical treatment.
Another — just, again, descriptive nature — attempted to break in windows of passing vehicles, blocking roads, intimidation, all of which are — some of these activities recorded with video evidence. And actually, some of these individuals have been prosecuted in the Israeli system.
Just finally, assaulting Palestinian Bedouin civilians, threatening with additional violence if they not leave their homes; burning fields; destroying property.
Those are the types of activities that this EO covers. And I think when the individuals with the descriptions are announced later today, I think you’ll see that in plain black and white.
So that’s what we’re talking about here. Again, this is very consistent with the policies that we’ve laid out for some time, and builds on the cabinet memo that Jake issued last fall and then the action from Secretary Blinken regarding visa restrictions for certain types of destabilizing activities in the West Bank.
And with that, why don’t I turn it over to [senior administration official] to say a little bit more about the EO and some of the sanctions that it covers, and then we can open up to questions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks. And I think you’ve done a great job of outlining, so I’ll be very brief.
But just to underscore again that, today, President Biden is signing a new executive order which implements a new set of measures to address actions that undermine peace, security, and stability in the West Bank.
The EO, in effect, blocks all property and interests [in property] of any person designated under this EO. And as [senior administration official] emphasized, we will be rolling out an initial set of designations today. So all property and interests in property in the United States of those individuals will be blocked.
It will also prohibit U.S. persons making any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any of these persons, and the receipt or any contribution of provision of funds, goods, or services from those persons.
So that is a standard set of full blocking financial sanctions. Additionally, the entry of the designated individuals under this EO will be blocked from the United States.
So it is a traditional financial sanctions EO. The consequences will be to remove the individuals from access to the U.S. financial system and block any assets that are within the United States and within our jurisdiction.
I will pause here and allow time for questions. But again, to emphasize, I think this is an important step to directly address the threats to U.S. national security and regional security arising from extremist violence in the West Bank, and underscores the extent to which the administration takes this threat seriously.
MODERATOR: Thank you both. We’ll now turn to questions. You can queue up by using the “Raise Your Hand” function on Zoom.
Our first question will go to Mike Shear. You should be able to unmute yourself.
Q Hey, guys. Thank you. Two quick questions just on how this works. One, when it comes to property, what does “blocking” mean? Does that mean that — I mean, I understand what it means for cash in an account, but in terms of physical property.
And can you give us some sense of the magnitude of the number of people and entities being sanctioned? Are we talking, in this first round, like a dozen, or are we talking scores? Or is there some way we can give a little bit of a sense of scale?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The second question, I’ll take briefly. So, the first — there’ll be four names announced later today.
And on the blocking and implementation, I’ll turn it to [senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks, Mike. And thanks, [senior administration official].
On the blocking — so this is a traditional and ordinary financial sanction. The individuals who are named under this EO will be added to OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List.
The way that blocking works is that all U.S. persons and all persons within our jurisdiction or transiting the jurisdiction are directed to block — and another form of — phrase that people will use is “freeze” — any interest in property. That can include any — the physical property being managed; it can include financial assets.
But it is a sanction that is analogous to our many other sanctions programs and includes a full freezing of a U.S. person’s ability to transact. And any U.S. person in possession of or managing property or assets on behalf of one of these persons will need to follow OFAC regulations around how to treat that property and to ensure that it is blocked within the United States.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Tamara Keith. You should be able to unmute yourself.
Q Hi. Thank you so much for taking my question. Not to go in a slightly different direction, but I will.
[Senior administration official], I know that you are involved in the talks to secure a ceasefire or extended pause and the release of hostages. And I am wondering if you can give us an update on how it’s going, how soon something might come through, and how Prime Minister Netanyahu’s public rhetoric might be affecting those talks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks. I won’t say too much about that other than I think the President spoke to this at the prayer breakfast this morning. We are working this every single day to get the hostages home.
Again, just to give you a sense of the pace: I was in the region last week, in Cairo and Doha. Bill had the meeting in Paris, which was reported in the media. We had Sheikh Mohammed, the Qatari prime minister, here on Monday. Jake and I met with the families of the hostages later that day. Yesterday, spent a couple hours with Ron Dermer, who’s in town, on this and other issues.
So we are doing all we possibly can to get the hostages out of Gaza. And that comes through an arrangement that would also lead to a significant humanitarian pause. And so, there is a kind of framework for that. There’s an active negotiation. We continue to work it every day.
I do not want to get into, kind of, the state of play beyond that, other than we are doing all we possibly can to try to facilitate this arrangement as we did back in November, with the recognition that this deal is, of course, much broader — broader in scope. That makes it, on the one hand, more promising. The idea is to get all the hostages out. It also makes it, of course, more complicated because there are a number of elements.
But we are just actively engaged on this. Secretary Blinken is heading out to the region again next week. And it really is a top priority as, I think, again, the President alluded to today in his remarks at the prayer breakfast.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Jacob Magid. You should be able to unmute yourself.
Q Hi. Thanks for doing this. Couple questions. How does this — American citizens, who are highly represented in the West Bank, can they be covered through these actions? Or does it have to be something else, given that they already — they don’t need a visa, for example?
And then, I just wanted to get a clarification on the difference between this action and then the one announced with the visa restrictions, because this also is a visa restriction. Was that announcement just, like, this is something we’re going to do, or were there visa restrictions that were made already a couple months ago in addition to that? So just a clarification between those two.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, American citizens are not the intended target of this EO. The measure is focused on foreign nationals — foreign nationals, again, engaged in actions that threaten peace, security, stability of the West Bank. And it is not linked to the visa restriction. It is really additive and just another tool following on the cabinet memo that Jake issued in the fall.
But maybe I can turn it over to my colleague for addition.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. Yeah, just to clarify, I think there were — and to underscore what [senior administration official] just said — we did issue visa restrictions, as we had announced in December, as part of our ongoing efforts to counter extremist violence in the West Bank. Those were issued under a separate State Department authority, which provides for visa restrictions, although the names of individuals under those visa restrictions are withheld and kept private.
This sanctions action, like other full blocking sanctions programs that we have in other situations that threaten U.S. national security around the world, includes both financial sanctions — so, additional financial sanctions and a visa restriction, and that visa restriction is public as well. So there’s a slight distinction. It is complementary to and additive to the actions that we have already taken too.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Karen DeYoung. You should be able to unmute yourself.
Q Hi. Thank you. I wondered if you could explain how you determine responsibility for incidents. I mean, do you have people on the ground? Do you get it from the Israelis? The U.N. has recorded, I think, almost 500 settler attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank since October 7th. They listed 370 people killed. How do you determine these names and convince yourself of responsibility?
And secondly, do you count things like, for example, this American teenager who was killed? Or do you wait for the Israelis to tell you who was responsible?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Maybe I can take that one.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, go ahead.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, so we have a process, as we do for all of our sanctions, that requires us to build evidentiary packages that would pass judicial review. That means that we look for — for each sanctions designation, it requires multiple forms of evidence and to ensure that that evidence can be corroborated from both credible sources. That evidence can include information from public reporting, information that has been passed from court documents or convictions in foreign states. It can also include intelligence reporting. But it must have multiple well-documented pieces of credible information before designating any individual.
And all of our sanctions are subject to a very robust legal review process to ensure that we do have designation packages that stand up to judicial review.
Like other sanctions programs, we intend to continue to pursue actions under this EO, and we’ll continue to scrutinize evidence of actions that would fall under the conduct.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ve got time for two more questions. Our next question will go to Zeke Miller. You should be able to unmute yourself.
Q Thanks so much for doing this. Can you let us know whether this was in any way briefed or reported to the Israeli government? I know Dermer was in town yesterday meeting with Jake.
And then separately, what are the impacts of these sanctions on — maybe let’s start with these four sanctioned individuals today. What are they going to lose access to? How does it affect Americans — to (inaudible) question — Americans who live in the West Bank, you know, transacting business with these individuals in the West Bank, with the Israeli government supply, or American NGOs or nonprofits that have supported settlers? What’s the impact — real-world impact going to be for those individuals?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. [Senior administration official], do you want to take the one on the government of Israel? And then I’ll take the second question.
MODERATOR: I think we’ve lost audio there. So, [senior administration official], if you want to take that second question first, then we can circle back to [senior administration official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. Great. So I think in terms of the practical implications of these sanctions, like other sanctions, these are designed to deny individuals access to the U.S. financial system. They are designed to ensure that these individuals, if they have property within the United States — if they, for example, had a savings account or were transacting, making payments through the U.S. financial system, those funds would be frozen and blocked, so not returned to them but instead held pending any lifting of the designation due to them changing behavior. It would also prohibit U.S. persons, unless otherwise authorized via the licenses that can be issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, from making contributions, from providing services to these persons.
So it does, like other financial sanctions that we impose, absent a specific license — and we are able to issue licenses to make sure that our sanctions have the desired effect without having unintended consequences — these individuals would be prohibited from making financial transactions with, from receiving contributions from, or receiving services from U.S. citizens anywhere in the world.
OFAC has a robust licensing program to be able to work through any issues that that would cause. And we’ll be issuing standard general licenses this morning to make sure that this does not, for example, impede the ability of organizations to conduct humanitarian work, the U.S. government to continue to conduct its work in the West Bank and elsewhere.
But the immediate impact is to restrict these individuals’ access to the U.S. financial system and also restrict their ability to receive services, including financial services, from U.S. persons.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, guys, I’m back. I dropped for a couple of minutes. Sorry.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think there was a question about whether we had notified the government of Israel. Did you want to take that one?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, we have.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our last question will go to Yuna. You should be able to unmute yourself.
Q Hi, thank you. Thank you for this. My first question is just a clarification. When this is published at noon, will we know the names of the individuals that are sanctioned? That is one.
Second, you said that the Israeli government was notified. Was it notified on the level of a prime minister? Was it notified — also the last question — while Dermer was in town in D.C.?
And the last one: Was part of it was considered sanctioning Ministers Ben-Gvir and Smotrich? On what exactly basis were they considered to also being sanctioned?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, we did a very — we did a regular notification to the Israeli government, to senior officials of the Israeli government, both from Washington and from Ambassador Lew.
I know your second question that has been — I’ve seen that reported anywhere. That’s just wrong. That is not something that is currently under contemplation.
And the — I don’t know when the names will come out. I think the EO at noon. The four names I think come out a little bit later. [Senior administration official], do you want to confirm that? From State.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The names will be issued at noon as well. So the State Department — the designations will be — under this EO, either the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Treasury, in consultation with the other, can issue designations. And these designations will be issued by the Department of State at noon, contemporaneously with the EO being posted, as well as the broader rollout.
So you will have the names. State Department will have — as is normally in these sanctions programs, you will have a full press release with the names and the details of the rationale for the designation and the conduct that we are designating the individuals for, at noon.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you both. This is all the time that we have.
As a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to senior administration officials. And it is embargoed until noon Eastern. Thanks again for joining.
10:50 A.M. EST