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Biden Caught in a Political Bind Over Israel Policy

The Biden administration’s reversal of Trump-era policy on settlements in the occupied West Bank reflects not just its rising frustration with Israel, but the political bind the president finds himself in, just days before the Democratic primary in Michigan, where a large Arab American population is urging voters to register their anger by voting “uncommitted.”

During a trip to Argentina on Friday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken called any new settlements “inconsistent with international law,” a break with policy set under the Trump administration and a return to the decades-long U.S. position.

The Biden administration is increasingly fed up with the Israeli government’s conduct in the Gaza war and beyond, with officials speaking out more publicly on contentious issues, said Nimrod Novik, a fellow at the Israel Policy Forum think tank. As an example, he cited a U.S. decision to slap financial sanctions on four Israelis — three of them settlers — accused of attacking Palestinians in the West Bank at a time when settler violence against Palestinians has increased.

Yet, Mr. Novik called Mr. Blinken’s remarks “too little, too late,” adding that the administration’s moves “in practice, are disjointed. The message is there, but it’s a tactical statement where the overall strategy is unclear.”

The United States has long been Israel’s most important international ally. Since the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7 left 1,200 dead in Israel, mostly civilians, Washington has consistently backed Israel’s blistering campaign in Gaza. The Biden administration has also shielded Israel from international censure by blocking cease-fire resolutions at the U.N. Security Council, even as the death toll in Gaza nears 30,000, according to health officials in the enclave.

That stance has increasingly left Mr. Biden in a no-win situation. His recent moves to press the Israeli government to wind down the war in Gaza and enter negotiations toward a Palestinian state have angered some ardent supporters of Israel in the United States. Yet they have come nowhere close to placating Israel’s fiercest critics on the political left and the Arab American community.

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