The Israeli left has won twice. From a political standpoint, it has moved the whole political map leftward. The Labor Party is talking like Meretz, Kadima is talking like Labor, Yisrael Beitenu is ready to carve up Jerusalem, and the Likud is divided between a minority that believes in a Greater Israel and a large bloc that whispers or even speaks openly about "two states" as the only solution. Among all the Zionist parties, only one small party continues to cling to the ideology of a Greater Israel - the National Union. Such a thing has never happened before.
From a social perspective, the social-democratic or liberal-socialist left is now the spokesman of mainstream thinking in Israel, advocating support of a free market that combines supply and demand with taking significant responsibility for those unable to play the market game, in the form of guaranteed health, education, housing and pension-related services. The current economic crisis and the fact that Israel hasn't yet managed to do away with government regulation are proof of the wisdom of such a policy. No one else on the political map can point to such an achievement - neither the religious parties nor the right.
So does this mean the Israeli left has grown stronger? Not necessarily. I would love, of course, for the left to be appreciated for choosing the correct approach, and for more people to cast their votes for the left. I sincerely hope that my party, Meretz, wins more seats in the next elections. But when it comes to parties based on moral principles, inculcation of those principles will always be more important than how many seats are garnered in the Knesset. The fact that others are preaching in the language of the left is its highest achievement.
The difference between the left and those who employ its lingo lies in how committed they are to the values underlying the words. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, once a staunch Greater Israel supporter, who voted in the Knesset against the Camp David accords in 1978, is talking like me now - and maybe going even further (I never said that if a Palestinian state is not established, Israel is doomed). But to implement his plans, he was prepared to sit in a government with the likes of Avigdor Lieberman. Olmert is now leaving office without having changed things in the territories, and without the chemistry between him and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas developing into something solid and tangible that can advance the cause of peace.
When Kadima chair Tzipi Livni tried to put together a coalition a few weeks ago, she announced that she would establish a national unity government and Likud would be part of it. Anyone who says such things and means it cannot seriously claim that peace is his or her top priority.
I admit that if there were other parties that not only took the words out of our mouths, but also practiced what we preached, I would be more lenient on the subject of voting. But since this is not the case, it seems to me that someone who really believes in our agenda needs to vote for a person who will not join a phony national unity government or put coalition interests ahead of achieving peace.
The left is not dead, and neither is the right. But if any camp has lost ideological support and seen its dream snuffed out, it is definitely the right. The days when Mapam leader Yaakov Hazan could hail the settlers of Gush Emunim as modern pioneers are long gone. The days when the Labor Party had a Greater Israel club, and when icons of the Labor movement like poet Natan Alterman preached against giving back territory - those days have given way to days when then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, the knight in shining armor of the illegal settlements, called for an end to the occupation and to messianic dreams, followed by the current prime minister's proposals to cede 94 percent of the West Bank and compensate the Palestinians with Israeli land.
There will always be a conservative right - afraid of change, traditional and suspicious of government intervention in the economy (unless it finds itself needing such intervention). And there will always be a left, unwilling to accept the way things are - the injustice, the political and social wrongs, the religious coercion, environmental inequality.
Livni can say there is no left and there is no right, and the right can claim victory over the left. But there is a left and a right, and to us it is very clear who the victor is.
The writer is former chair of Meretz. He served as MK and in several ministerial capacities as a member of the Labor Party.