U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting in the U.S. in January 2010. Photo by (GPO)
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama will have two issues on the agenda at their meeting at the White House this evening - stemming Iran's growing strength and Palestinian statehood.

Netanyahu wants Obama to act against Iran and Obama wants Netanyahu to curb the settlements and reach an arrangement in the West Bank.

This deal, foiling Iran's nuclearization for stopping the West Bank settlements, has been on the agenda since the two were elected. Each one knows what the other wants, but is trying to lower the price. Netanyahu would have been happy for America to strike Iran while Israel continued ruling the territories. Obama would have been happy for Israel to remove all West Bank settlements, withdraw to the Green Line and clear the area for an independent Palestine, without having to confront Iran.

During their first year in office the two did not reach an agreement or move toward their mutual goals. Iran is enriching uranium and there is no Palestinian state. But Obama did strengthen Israel in its arms race against Iran and protected it from international investigation committees and courts, in exchange for a partial construction freeze in the settlements, removing roadblocks in the West Bank, strengthening the Palestinian Authority's defense forces and alleviating the blockade on Gaza.

Now they have reached a turning point. Obama has formed an international front supporting new sanctions against Iran and signed legislation for stricter sanctions. It won't stop the centrifuges in Natanz, but it does herald the end of a conciliatory policy toward Iran and the beginning of the slide toward confrontation.

Now that Obama has made his move on the Iranian front, it is Netanyahu's turn to give him something on the Palestinian front. The Israeli political arena is preoccupied with whether Netanyahu will resume construction in the West Bank when the freeze expires at the end of September. But this is a marginal issue. Netanyahu needs a reward that would enable him to extend the freeze. For example, a Palestinian agreement on direct talks. Or freezing construction only outside settlement blocs, in exchange for allowing the building of the new Palestinian city Rawabi, near Ramallah.

The more important question Obama will ask Netanyahu is what the latter would do to realize his vision for "a demilitarized Palestinian state beside the Jewish state."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants Netanyahu to accept in principle the borders and security formula - the '67 lines as a basis for arrangement, with agreed territorial swaps on a 1:1 scale and an international force on the ground - as a basis for direct negotiations. In these talks the maps will be drafted and other core issues will be discussed. The Kadima government headed by Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni agreed to this formula.

Netanyahu will probably propose a counter formula that will water down the Palestinian demand. For example "defensible borders on the basis of the '67 lines and territory swaps." This will give Netanyahu greater room to maneuver in the negotiations.

Obama and Netanyahu will try to appraise each other's political strength this evening. Netanyahu will try to understand to what extent his host fears mid-term elections in November and how much pressure he can apply to Israel.

Obama will estimate how stable his guest's seat is and how much he needs to make a move toward peace to keep Labor in the coalition.

Both are stronger than before. Obama passed a healthcare reform bill and sanctions against Iran and displayed leadership in replacing Gen. Stanley McChrystal with David Petraeus as commander in Afghanistan. Netanyahu gained control of his party and has no rivals in Likud or the opposition to harass him, topple him or defeat him in elections.

The two men's weakness lies in the international front, not at home. Obama needs an achievement to show the world that America is not lost. Netanyahu wants to reverse Israel's growing international isolation.

Here is a basis for understanding - which will remain discreet if achieved. Netanyahu will not announce an extension of the freeze two-and-a-half months in advance, avoiding pressure and leaving some wiggle room in talks with the Palestinians. Obama will make no promises he would find difficult to keep.

The visit will generate no big headlines. Its results will only emerge at the end of summer.