The adjustment in policy by the Biden administration concerning settlements in the occupied West Bank – as opposed to the stance adopted during the Trump era – seems to emanate not only from increasing dissatisfaction with Israel but also from the predicament the president now faces, particularly given the looming Democratic primary in Michigan, where a substantial Arab American community is urging constituents to express their discontent by voting “uncommitted.”

While in Argentina on Friday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken emphasized that any further settlements would be considered “inconsistent with international law,” a departure from the previous Trump administration policy, marking a return to the traditional U.S. standpoint upheld over decades.

Observers, such as Nimrod Novik, a fellow at the Israel Policy Forum think tank, note that the Biden administration has been growing increasingly disgruntled with the behavior of the Israeli government during and after the conflict in Gaza, with officials taking a more public stance on contentious issues. For instance, the decision to impose financial sanctions on four individuals – three of whom were settlers – accused of assaulting Palestinians in the West Bank amid a surge in settler violence against Palestinians.

Nonetheless, Mr. Novik deemed Mr. Blinken’s statements as “belated and insufficient,” adding that the administration’s actions, “while sending a message, lack coherence in practice. The statement is there, but it comes across as a tactical move rather than part of a clear overall strategy.”

The United States has historically been a key ally of Israel on the global stage. Following the Hamas-led incursion on October 7 leading to 1,200 casualties in Israel, mostly civilians, Washington consistently supported Israel’s decisive actions in Gaza. In addition, the Biden administration has shielded Israel from international condemnation by thwarting ceasefire resolutions at the U.N. Security Council, despite the mounting death toll in Gaza, which now approaches 30,000 according to health officials in the region.

This unwavering stance has placed Mr. Biden in an increasingly untenable position. His recent efforts to pressure the Israeli government to de-escalate the conflict in Gaza and engage in negotiations for a Palestinian state have irked certain ardent pro-Israel supporters in the U.S. However, these steps have not come close to pacifying the staunch critics of Israel on the left end of the political spectrum and within the Arab American community.

Following the events of October 7, Arab Americans and progressive voters had largely maintained a cautious stance, even as Jewish Republicans lauded Mr. Biden’s pro-Israel stance.

These same Jewish Republicans have now shifted their narrative and are criticizing the president. The Republican Jewish Coalition, which previously supported the administration post-October 7, condemned the new settlement policy as “another negative aspect of its campaign to undermine Israel.”

The group highlighted other measures undertaken by the administration to curb Israel’s response to the Hamas attacks, such as imposing sanctions on West Bank settlers involved in violent acts and pressuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to acknowledge the existence of a Palestinian state.

Matt Brooks, the longtime CEO of the group, asserted, “The communities in question, situated west of the West Bank barrier, are not obstructing peace. It is the Palestinian terrorism that poses a barrier.”

Yet, these actions fall short of the demands made by young progressive voters and Arab Americans, who are calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza conflict and a cessation of American military aid to Israel. These demands are gaining momentum as Mr. Netanyahu shows no signs of backing down.

“The sanctions imposed by Biden for settler violence and the declaration of settlements as illegal are insufficient, particularly given the deep entrenchment of apartheid practices in Israel in recent years,” remarked Yousef Munayyer, a Palestinian American overseeing the Palestine-Israel program at the Arab Center in Washington. “Moreover, supporting a genocide in Gaza only exacerbates the situation. It’s akin to bringing a cup of water to a raging fire while providing fuel to the arsonist.”

From a strategic standpoint, the political objectives of the Israeli prime minister appear to be at odds with those of the American president. Mr. Biden is eager to end the conflict to realign the coalition that secured his victory in 2020. Conversely, Mr. Netanyahu wishes to prolong the conflict until Hamas is decisively defeated, in a bid to quell domestic political challenges from an aggrieved electorate and potentially support the return of his ally, Donald J. Trump, to power.

Mr. Blinken’s statement was most likely prompted by an announcement from Bezalel Smotrich, a senior Israeli minister, indicating that a planning committee would soon deliberate on the construction of over 3,000 new housing units in the settlements, with a significant portion planned for Ma’ale Adumim, where three Palestinian assailants killed an Israeli and injured several others recently.

Regarding the new units, Mr. Smotrich justified them as “an appropriate Zionist response” to the attack.

Official critiques from the Biden administration have consistently opposed settlement expansion in the West Bank, where approximately 500,000 Israelis now reside among around 2.7 million Palestinians, citing it as a hindrance to the longstanding U.S. objective of a two-state solution. Meanwhile, Mr. Netanyahu has persistently emphasized his efforts to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, which he claims would jeopardize Israel’s security.

Palestinians envision the West Bank as an integral part of their future independent state, but Israeli settlements have gradually encroached upon significant portions of the territory. Palestinian officials deemed Mr. Blinken’s statement long overdue and ultimately inadequate.

“It is about time that the illegal actions of the previous administration were reversed after three and a half years,” remarked Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to Britain, during a recent phone conversation. “It is bewildering why Blinken and President Biden remained passive on this issue – and many others – for such a prolonged duration.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Zomlot acknowledged that despite the delay, Mr. Blinken’s statement signaled a positive step forward, emphasizing that Palestinians anticipate concrete actions against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank rather than mere symbolic gestures.

However, such expectations may be unrealized in the short term, according to analysts. Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. diplomat, suggested that the Biden administration is unlikely to follow up Mr. Blinken’s declaration with substantial repercussions. Collaborating with regional mediators, U.S. officials are engaged in brokering a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, making a prolonged public dispute with Netanyahu unattractive for Biden at this juncture.

While Mr. Biden pledged to reverse certain policies of his predecessor pertaining to Israel upon assuming office, many of these policies remain unchanged. A separate consulate in Jerusalem that essentially..

served as the U.S. intermediary for the Palestinians was never officially reopened after it was shut down by the Trump administration; the Palestinian embassy in Washington remains closed; and most financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, is currently halted under legislation signed by Mr. Trump.

In the initial year and a half of Mr. Biden’s term, U.S. officials justified their cautious strategy as an effort to refrain from disturbing the delicate, divided coalition of left, right, and center that had briefly overthrown Mr. Netanyahu. However, that government crumbled in mid-2022, resulting in the fifth Israeli elections in four years.

Following Mr. Netanyahu’s return to power in late 2022 at the head of a far-right alliance filled with nationalists and settler leaders, there was a surge in settlement expansion.

A total of 12,349 housing units in settlements progressed through various stages of the bureaucratic planning process in 2023, in contrast to the 4,427 units reported the previous year, as per the Israeli organization Peace Now.

However, until the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7 prompted Israel’s four-month military operation in Gaza, the Biden administration refrained from directly confronting Israel on contentious Palestinian issues, choosing to prioritize other regional objectives, such as the normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

According to Natan Sachs, who heads the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, American officials directed their diplomatic efforts elsewhere, concentrating on adversaries like Iran and subsequently on fostering normalized relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

“It’s a noteworthy move, considering the Trump administration’s approach,” remarked Mr. Sachs, in reference to Mr. Blinken’s comments, “although it is not as groundbreaking as the administration’s sanctions on aggressive settlers.”

“The latter action was unprecedented and served as a genuine indicator of a new policy,” he explained. “The recent statement signals the administration’s need to re-engage.”