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Yossi Beilin officially left the race for chairman of Meretz yesterday at a press conference where he told reporters drily, "It seems to me that to a great extent I saved Meretz." Beilin's remark came in response was in answer to a reporter's question as to whether he had not failed as the leader of Meretz, his political home for the five years since he left Labor.

However the fact that after four years as head of Meretz, Beilin reached the present race without a single supporter among the party's other four MKs, three of whom had even challenged him for the party leadership, adds to the recognition that Beilin was in fact been unable to create a leadership base in his new party. It was said that he had not internalized the spirit of Meretz, and continued to act as if he were a member of the Labor Party dealing with peace initiatives.

MK Haim Oron's throwing his hat into the ring for chairman was the direct reason Beilin backed out. Beilin understood over the past few days that his already meager chances of winning the chairmanship again were nonexistent if Oron was running. And so he stood by his friend Oron, who supported him in previous campaigns, and promised he would continue to be active in political life from within Meretz in the next Knesset. "The ideological closeness and friendship with Jumas [Oron] dictated that I not run against him. I have had a principle for many years. I will not run against a comrade in my political path," Beilin said yesterday, adding that Oron's decision to run surprised him, catching him in the middle of his own re-election campaign.

Beilin joined Meretz after more than two decades of intense work with the Labor Party. During that period, he cobbled together the Oslo Accords and served as a minister, but he still did not manage to secure a realistic slot on Labor's list in the 2003 election.

After Yossi Sarid resigned from the chairmanship of Meretz following the election, Beilin beat MK Ran Cohen in the 2004 primary for party chair. At that time, Beilin had the support of MKs Zahava Galon and Oron. However, in the 2006 election, Meretz barely garnered five Knesset seats.

Beilin said yesterday that Amir Peretz had been responsible for Meretz's poor outcome in 2006, because Peretz "presented himself as more Meretz than Meretz."

Beilin managed to anger his fellow faction members more than once over the years with his independent actions. He led Meretz in support of Sharon's Gaza-withdrawal plan. He said Ehud Olmert's speeches were closer to Meretz than Ehud Barak's. His opponents said by such statements he had made Meretz politically irrelevant.

However Beilin insisted yesterday that Meretz still had something to offer: "The cabinet is speaking 'Genevan,'" as he put it.

Beilin adversary Ran Cohen said the outgoing chair's hint at collaboration with Oron was an attempt to hold on to the reins of failed leadership. "In the face of this failure, I present my candidacy with the goal of making Meretz relevant to the public again."

Zahava Gal-On, who has said frequently over the past year that the party had lost its spirit, said Beilin had "shown responsibility in his decision not to run for chairman."

Oron, the man who changed the party dynamic with the announcement he would run for chairman, said he appreciated that Beilin had "placed Meretz above personal ambitions."