Obama and Netanyahu at the White House on September 1, 2010. AP
Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by AP
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The coming 12 months or so will be a "year of decision" for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama on two issues they have in common: the establishment of a Palestinian state and stopping the Iranian nuclear program. During that time the two will have to decide, together or apart, whether Israel will loosen its grip on the West Bank and make room for an independent Palestinian state and whether to go to war on Iran to incapacitate the threat of its nuclear sites.

Obama has one year until he embarks on a new election campaign or decides not to run and make do with a single term in office. During that time Obama will hope to advance the establishment of Palestine and usher it into the family of nations, as he promised in his address at the UN General Assembly.

Netanyahu proposed holding negotiations on an Israeli-Palestinian framework agreement over a year, and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad promised to complete preparations for independence during that period.

Netanyahu's unclear political timetable

Netanyahu's political timetable is a lot less clear than Obama's. The passing of the two-year budget in December will bolster his position, but his term in office is closing in on its halfway point, and in line with tradition, signs of disquiet are increasing in the coalition.

Netanyahu has so far managed to maneuver between his partners on the right and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, keeping them all around the same table.

The U.S. elections are bringing him closer to a decision: to respond to U.S. pressure and freeze settlements once more or say no to Obama and huddle behind a right-wing coalition and its Republican supporters in Congress to "preserve the Land of Israel" and carry on with the settlements.

Netanyahu's decision on the settlements will influence and be influenced by his parallel decision of when to take action against Iran.

The Iranian nuclear effort has fallen behind the expectations of its masters and intelligence assessments, but the Iranians are nearing the point the dispersal of the nuclear installations will make them immune to a surgical strike.

If Israel goes to war it will need U.S. support - if not on the way to the strike then certainly on the way back, when Tel Aviv will be attacked by rocket salvos from Iran, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and possibly also Syria.

Obama opposes an Israeli action but may change his mind in return for Palestinian independence. Netanyahu may be tempted and take action, relying on his Republican friends to impose U.S. aid to Israel against a retaliatory strike by Iran and its proxies.

The decisions facing Netanyahu and Obama are not easy and may change the face of the Middle East for generations.

But it may be that as last year, this year they will opt to avoid decisions and confrontations, be deterred from bold political and military actions, and make do with passing time comfortably until the end of their terms.

They would wait in the hope that reality does not blow up in their faces.