Akiva Eldar / What Draws the Masses in Israel to Kadima?

Perhaps it's the public's short memory, or maybe the Gaza op wiped clean the travesty of the Lebanon War.

Click here for exclusive Haaretz coverage of the elections in Israel

The next line could have been written a while before the voting closed: Kadima is not merely a surprise, Kadima is a phenomenon. Three years ago, when its founder, Ariel Sharon, fell into a coma not long after creating it, some people predicted that it would disappear into the abyss of history. They said Ehud Olmert came to power by holding onto Sharon's coattails. They explained that leaving the Gaza Strip and the relatively quiet evacuation of Gush Katif were what propelled Kadima to the top.

Well, today, Tzipi Livni, a woman who only recently entered politics, has led Kadima wisely to the finals. She forced Benjamin Netanyahu, who only two weeks ago led in the polls, to sweat all the way to the ballot box. Kadima, which began with a promise for a Big Bang and gathered up well-worn politicians from here and there, also left behind the party that founded the country.

What were the successes of Livni and her colleagues that made the voters, those same voters who supported them three years ago, choose them over Likud, Labor and Meretz?

Just two and a half years ago they made 1 million Israelis refugees in their own country in a war that ended with more than 160 dead and a committee of inquiry that ripped them to bits. Only headlines in old newspapers are left about the disengagement, the negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas and the illegal outposts. The promise that the Gaza pullout would bring security to the communities in the western Negev blew up with the Grad rockets that hit the central Negev. Hamas took over the Strip and is spreading its power to the West Bank. And Gilad Shalit is still a prisoner.

Kadima carried the day on the back of revulsion about Likud's deals -; both open and secret - and the desire for clean government. It survived the serial investigations of the prime minister, the conviction of Vice Premier Haim Ramon, the indictment against finance minister Abraham Hirchson and the trial of former minister Tzachi Hanegbi.

Its new list of candidates is not as strong as the previous one. Medium-to-low-level politicians like Ruhama Avraham Balila and Eli Aflalo stayed deep inside the party, but serious MKs like professors Isaac Ben-Israel and Menahem Ben-Sasson were left outside. A skilled parliamentarian like Amira Dotan decided that she had had enough after a single term.

It's hard to understand what draws the masses in Israel to Kadima. Perhaps it is the public's short collective memory, or that the "victory" of Operation Lead Cast may have wiped clean the travesty of the Second Lebanon War. A friend who spent the day at the ballot box committee in a well-to-neighborhood neighborhood in the center of the country said countless people wondered why they were not offered two ballots.

Is it possible to expect everyone to remember that we no longer have direct elections of the prime minister? Those who have forgotten this should remember that they're not just voting for the party leader, but for the entire party with all its policies and ideology. Or perhaps the secret Kadima code is in the formula political strategist Reuven Adler used to lead Sharon and Olmert to power and repeated it for Livni: Kill as many Arabs as possible and talk as much as possible about peace.