On the "morning after," there will be a state inquiry established to examine the war's management and maybe other questions, like, for example, whether it was possible to prevent the arming of Hezbollah over the last six years through political or military means.
The recent weeks, in which such a large part of the country was exposed to Hezbollah rockets, in which economic life was paralyzed for a third of the country and tourism halted; in which the security ramifications of the enormous gaps between rich and poor, Jew and Arabs were exposed, and in which tens of thousands of reservists were mobilized and the military and civilian price was so heavy, all demand a commission of inquiry and it will be established.
Instead of responding to the demands raised by the media, at demonstrations, in both parliamentary opposition and his own coalition, the prime minister should initiate a proposal for such an inquiry as soon as possible. He must already prepare for the appointment of such a commission to ensure there is no hint of his evading the issue. Furthermore, as the law states, he should turn to the Supreme Court president and ask him to appoint the commission members and decide who should head it. I think Aharon Barak himself would be the most appropriate person of all to chair the commission. But on the day after, our national agenda should not only be about the commission of inquiry.
On the one hand, the government will have to make a supreme effort to ensure the 2007 budget is one that narrows the social gaps - even if it is impossible to cut the defense budget as promised. On the other hand, Olmert will have to lead a political move that is an alternative to his idea of "convergence" or "realignment."
Olmert does not have the option of running "the morning after" in maintenance mode alone. He came to power promising political negotiations with the Palestinians. If this did not work, he would lead a unilateral move to evacuate settlements in the West Bank and move their residents to the settlement blocs. He cannot go ahead with that move because the events in Gaza and Lebanon convinced the public that unilateral moves could not replace peace agreements, and because he would not win a majority for it in Knesset. The right and the religious parties will not lend a hand to the withdrawal and evacuation of settlers, and the left will not let him forgo negotiations and move settlers from one side of the fence in the West Bank to the other without an agreement.
An attempt to convene a second Madrid Conference would be a grand, dramatic political move that would be accepted, at least at the start, by a very large majority in the public and the Knesset. The first Madrid Conference, which convened in October 1991, changed the face of the Middle East and allowed, for the first time in history, direct negotiations between Israel and Syria, Lebanon and a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation over a peace agreement. The discussions led exactly three years later to the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, which was made possible by the Oslo agreements signed by Israel and the PLO. The discussions with Lebanon were totally dependent on those with Syria, and therefore did not lead anywhere. The discussions with Syria, which ceased in 1996 and resumed in 1999 were halted again when the sides reached an agreement on all the problems on the agenda except for the northeast coastline of the Kinneret.
It is true that many terrible things have happened since: the second intifada, the Hamas victory, 9/11, Iranian extremism, the conflict in Gaza after the disengagement and a second war in Lebanon. But there were also positive developments. Syria left Lebanon, Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled, Fouad Siniora was elected prime minister of Lebanon and Bashar Assad and Mahmoud Abbas' willingness to begin negotiations with Israel create better circumstances for a second Madrid Conference than existed on the eve of the first.
It is also worth adding that the gaps in the matter of the final status arrangements have been greatly narrowed over the last 15 years. In Israel of 2006, there is a near-consensus about a Palestinian state, and Israel's prime minister is ready to give up 90 percent of the West Bank, unilaterally. The Clinton document, the Bush "vision," the Road Map, the Arab League Summit decision of 2002 and the Geneva Initiative all paint a clear picture of a permanent Israeli-Palestinian agreement. The public and secret talks with the Syrians since 1991 also sketch, nearly completely, the outline of an Israeli-Syrian agreement.
In 1991, it was the U.S. that invested the effort in persuading Israel to take part in such a conference. This time it will be Olmert's job to persuade President Bush that prying Syria out of the Axis of Evil, peace with Lebanon and an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are practical moves, which - if they work - could save the Middle East and help achieve the reforming vision Bush believes in so much.