France hints at maximum sanctions on Israeli settlers in West Bank

Paris cranks up pressure on Israel to allow more aid into Gaza for suffering Palestinians

Stephane Sejourne, the French Foreign Minister, has called for more border crossings into Gaza to be opened. AFP
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French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne has said his country is open to expanding sanctions against extremist Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank to pressure Israel into opening border crossings to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

"There must be levers of influence and there are multiple levers, going up to sanctions ... to let humanitarian aid cross checkpoints," Mr Sejourne told RFI radio and France 24 television.

"France was one of the first countries to propose European Union sanctions on Israeli settlers who are committing acts of violence in the West Bank. We will continue if needed to obtain the opening of humanitarian aid," he added, speaking in Abidjan in Ivory Coast.

Further western sanctions on Israeli settlers, viewed widely as an obstacle to a two-state solution, would intensify pressure on Israel across the board at a time when Europe and the US are trying to increase humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

More than 33,300 Palestinians have been killed in six months of conflict. Most of the enclave's 2.3 million people have been displaced and many are at risk of famine.

France is the only EU country to have imposed sanctions on Israeli settlers, though Paris did not publicise the names of the 28 people listed on February 14. The US and Britain have also targeted extremist settlers with sanctions.

Last month, the EU Council gave its agreement in principle to impose sanctions on extremist settlers but has yet to proceed. The bloc is deeply divided over the conflict in Gaza.

Some EU countries such as Spain have been critical of Israel's actions and have called for increasing political pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, as well as the recognition of a Palestinian state.

Asked if France would recognise Palestinian statehood this year, Mr Sejourne said it “would not be useful to do so outside of a peace process”.

Mr Sejourne’s statements came only hours after French President Emmanuel Macron, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi published a joint statement in daily newspaper Le Monde calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

“Palestinians in Gaza are no longer just at risk of famine; it is already settling in. A massive increase in the provision and distribution of humanitarian aid is urgently needed,” their joint statement published Tuesday evening read.

They reaffirmed their opposition to an Israeli ground offensive in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

“Such an offensive will only increase the loss of life and suffering, aggravate the risk and consequences of a massive forced displacement of the population of Gaza and pose a threat of escalation in the region," they said.

Updated: April 10, 2024, 1:50 PM