The lack of novelty in Middle East policy, despite the radical departures promised both by Barack Obama and Benjamin Nethanyahu's Likud party, demonstrates that policies are dictated by objective constraints and by the approaches of professional foreign policy bureaucrats who mostly remain unchanged when there is a democratic change of government.
Some specific predictions for 2010:
No unity government - neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority are really interested in such a government.
Mahmoud Abbas will remain President of the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian Authority will continue to gather support for their unilateral state declaration, which appears to be a promising avenue for bypassing the negotiation process and forcing their position on Israel with the backing of the EU and others.
Israel & the Palestinians
Israeli government will succumb to pressure and agree to ransom Gilad Shalit by releasing about a thousand prisoners, including, most likely, Marwan Barghouti.
Additional kidnap attempts will be made from Gaza and possibly from Lebanon.
No progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations even if Israel agrees to a building halt in East Jerusalem and negotiations are restarted.
There will be a showdown between the United States and Israel at the end of the ten month period that Israel has allotted to the settlement freeze, because the United States will insist that the freeze be extended.
The settlement freeze will ultimately be extended, at least partially, with no quid pro quo. The Netanyahu government has shown itself very poor at bargaining.
Security situation will continue to deteriorate as Americans leave.
United States evacuation of Iraq will be completed in 2010 regardless of rising violence.
US will not send more troops to Iraq before the next US presidential election
US surge will not be effective, since the Taleban are not concentrated in cities but rather diffused throughout the country.
Pakistani efforts will meet with only limited and temporary success, as Taleban escape into the countryside or into Afghanistan.
New sanctions against Iran will not be effective, in part because China would veto effective sanctions.
The US will make symbolic gestures to isolate Iran, but these will not be effective.
USA will not strike a deal with Iran isolating Israel, despite the prediction of an Israeli think-tank, because there is no deal to be made that would safeguard US interests against Iran's self-proclaimed ambitions for regional hegemony and exclusion of the US from the Middle East.
US will not attack Iran militarily.
Israel will not attack Iran militarily.
There will be more domestic unrest in Iran, met with harsh reprisals.
There is a high probability that Iran is buidling or has built additional concealed nuclear facilities. One or more may be discovered or made public by foreign intelligence services in 2010.
The Iranian regime will remain stable.
Look for increasing influence of Hezbollah and Syria under the pretext of fighting Israel. This may include the return of Syrian Army intelligence personnel to Lebanon, further arming of Hezbolla and further sycophantic visits such as the one made recently by President Hariri.
Yemen revolt will continue to raise tensions with Saudi Arabia.
There will be further islamophobic initiatives like the Swiss referendum banning minarets, though they may meet with less success.
This is not an exciting list of predictions, I admit. It would be far more eye catching to forecast invasions and nuclear war and other mayhem. Some of that may happen, but the probability is low and the place and timing and perpetrators of such events cannot be predicted in advance. Who could really have predicted the 9-11 attack with any accuracy?