Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor thinks Israel should establish its own independent committee to investigate Israel Defense Forces activity in the Gaza Strip during last winter's Operation Cast Lead.

"I have faith in the army and it is my duty to protect it, its commanders and its soldiers - and the most effective tool for this is serious self-examination," Meridor said in a recent interview with Haaretz. "A state that examines itself [protects itself from] harassment. Today, with the development of international law, one of the best means of defense is for a state to investigate itself."

Meridor would like to see such a committee examine the statements made in the Goldstone report, a United Nations report accusing both Israel and Hamas of war crimes and recommending war crimes proceedings if the sides don't conduct their own independent investigations.

"The commission of inquiry that I hope will be established must examine the Goldstone report's claims, even if it is a biased report, and its mandate from the outset was to examine Israel's crimes, and one of the committee's members stated prior to the investigation that Israel commits war crimes," said Meridor, who also serves as minister of intelligence and atomic energy. "But the threat is serious and a commission of inquiry should be established, also to examine the suitability of the rules of war to the new type of war that has been imposed on us."

Meridor said the Netanyahu government was determined to reach a final-status agreement with the Palestinians, but added, "This doesn't mean that an agreement is possible."

"I think it's in Israel's clear interest to make a very serious attempt, to take chances, to reach an agreement on resolving the conflict - one that would oblige us to make significant concessions on part of the land," the deputy prime minister said. "For this reason, I'm happy that [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu clearly stated, in his Bar-Ilan speech, that we accept that there should be a Palestinian state."

The government will not agree to former prime minister Ehud Olmert's proposal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said Meridor, because Netanyahu is not willing to cede sovereignty over Jerusalem's Old City or grant the right of return, and is also opposed to a territorial exchange.

"One thing that worries me is that if Abu Mazen [Abbas] said no even to Olmert's supposedly far-reaching offers, when Olmert really wanted an agreement, then how will we reach an agreement [now]?" Meridor asked. "Does anyone think that we'll give more than Olmert gave?"

Meridor added that he is open to negotiations with Syria. "If it seems possible to reach an agreement that would lead to full peace with Syria, like the peace with Jordan - with real elements of security cooperation and so on - and if it would be possible to simultaneously conclude a peace with Lebanon, which depends on the Syrians, and if this would make it possible to deal Hezbollah a mortal blow by cutting them off from their sources - then this would be strategically important and I would make an effort to negotiate with the Syrians," he said.

As for Meridor's recent return to politics, he attributed the move to the Second Lebanon War.

"I saw how a government of intelligent people, some of whom I know very well personally, weren't asking the elementary questions when sending the nation to war," he said. "Going to war is the hardest decision a government can make. You don't go to war unless all other options have been exhausted. You don't go to war because you're right, but because you know where you want to get to."