What Next? / Four post-Winograd Political Scenarios

How will Israel's political situation look, post-Winograd? There are several possibilities:

1. The probable scenario: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ignores the protests and continues to preside as usual. The commentators will first lambaste his failed performance during the Second Lebanon War, producing damning quotes from the Winograd report about the government's handling of the war. Then they will end up praising him for his survival skills.

The panel's recommendations will be laid to eternal rest along with the recommendations of previous committees. After the storm blows over, Olmert will seek to consolidate an alternative public agenda. He will then jumpstart political activity following a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region.

King Abdullah of Jordan may very well follow in her footsteps, with a historic speech at the Knesset. Olmert will visit Washington and maybe stop to see the newly elected heads of state in Paris and London. The prime minister's next test will take place in the Labor primaries arena.

Olmert's diplomatic efforts and the belligerent clamor in the Gaza Strip will help him pave the way for his preferred candidate as defense minister, Ehud Barak. Reinforced by Barak and a new finance minister (Haim Ramon? Meir Sheetrit? A surprise apolitical appointee?), Olmert will announce a new and improved cabinet, thus successfully containing his chief rival, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Barring the advent of another war, Olmert could sail fairly smoothly through the Knesset's relatively short summer session, past its recess, gliding on until the submission of the final Winograd report in July. Then he will be free to deal with the projected political crises of the vote on the national budget and the political stalemate. By September he will have survived in office longer than Barak. By November, his tenure will have surpassed Moshe Sharett's term in office. This means that if he manages to hold on until next year, he will not have to worry about going down in history as Israel's least accomplished prime minister.

2. The incredible scenario: Upon studying the report, Olmert becomes deeply saddened by its grave conclusions and the calls for his resignation. In a heartfelt speech, he announces his resignation. He pledges to support his Kadima-elected replacement.

This scenario actually has several variations. The first could involve a switch between Livni and Olmert. The second could see Vice Premier Shimon Peres taking Olmert's place for a transitional period, as required by Kadima's protocol. The third: Olmert stays onboard as a minister without portfolio, as was the case with Ariel Sharon after he was deposed from the Defense Ministry in 1983, following the first Lebanon War.

The fourth variation involves Olmert's retirement from all public posts, in the hope of shaking off the criminal investigations launched against him. However, this seems unlikely in light of the prime minister's comments about his reluctance to give up his current vocation. The political establishment tends to take his word for it.

3. The domino scenario: Olmert's center of political support, which he has nurtured since he stepped into office, collapses under public pressure. Labor's new chair - whether Barak, Ami Ayalon or a resurrected Peretz - withdraws his support of the coalition. Kadima buckles under and an open mutiny against Olmert forces him to step down.

This far-fetched scenario is very dependent on public sentiment, which up till now can only be described as indifferent. The reasons for this apathy is fairly simple. As opposed to the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the first Lebanon War in 1982, the Second Lebanon War resulted in few casualties, and it was not followed by an increase in taxes or in unemployment. If anything, it was marked by a boom in the stock exchange. When the masses are not hungry, they tend to stay home rather than go out to mass protests.

As for political interests, they also make this scenario improbable. The coalition members are shaking in their boots at the prospect of early elections. The only party that would probably not crash in the balloting is Shas, but its leader, Eli Yishai, doesn't wish to drag the public out to vote. He's comfortable enough with Olmert.

4. The recurrent war scenario: The cardinal threat to Olmert's survival in power is another military conflagration in Gaza or the North. High-casualty urban warfare in the Gaza Strip or an Syrian onslaught in the Golan - accompanied by Scud barrages on Tel Aviv - will spell Olmert's political demise. In either case, he will be held accountable for launching an avoidable war: in Gaza because of his compliance with the demands of the Israel Defense Forces; in the North because of his reluctance to negotiate with the Syrians.