Akiva Eldar / Why Did Meretz Fare So Poorly in the Elections?

Meretz never imagined it would be crowned the biggest loser of the left wing in the 2009 election.

If Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman was the right-wing's greatest victor in Tuesday's election, Meretz is definitely the greatest loser of the left (considering that Labor has long since joined the political center).

Even the most pessimistic predictions within the party's leadership could not have imagined that it would drop beneath the 5-seat benchmark it held since the 2003 elections.

Just a few weeks ago, recently appointed party chairman Haim Oron rebuked the detractors of the decision to incorporate new faces ? Nitzan Horowitz, Talia Sasson and Tzali Reshef ? among the party's top ten candidates. He said with unremitting conviction that the creation of New Movement-Meretz would win the party at least another three seats.

Meretz was not in the coalition, and therefore could not be blamed for the government's shortcomings. It fulfilled its role as a small opposition party decently, and even more than that. But the more dovish circles among the traditional voters accused the party of betraying its basic principles in supporting the Second Lebanon War of 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last month. Traditional Meretz voters are unforgiving of indecisiveness and cannot disregard unnecessary wars. Some of these hardcore voters, thus, supported the even more left-wing bi-national party Hadash.

Meretz is also still paying for the second intifada. A large portion of Meretz supporters adopted the narrative offered by Labor leader Ehud Barak who said that "we gave the Palestinians everything and they responded with violence." The peace camp can't seem to recover from the blow it suffered since the Camp David summit of 2000.

Meretz, which was a minor partner in Barak's government between 1999 and 2000, shares in Labor's disillusionment in regard to peace with the Palestinians, a trend that gained strength after Hamas' 2006 parliamentary victory and in large part due to the ongoing violence in Gaza. This trend manifests itself most clearly in the kibbutzim, where Meretz has enjoyed massive support over the years. In this election, Kadima doubled its support among kibbutzniks, even though the Kadima member who represents the kibbutzim slipped to the bottom of the party's list in the last primaries.

Meretz also paid a heavy price for the fragmentation within the left wing bloc. Almost two of the seats that should have gone to Meretz went to the Green Party-Meimad and to other smaller niche parties with similar platforms, like the Green Leaf Party.

The Arab sector was also unkind to Meretz, with Kadima and Likud coming in ahead of Meretz among Israeli Arab voters. It stands to reason that the absence of an Arab name high up on the Meretz party list contributed to the lack of support.

However, it looks as though the deadliest blow was dealt in the final days before the election. The close tie in the polls between Kadima and Likud, and the campaign messages that whichever of the two would gain more seats, would be tasked with forming the next government, compelled Meretz voters, considered involved and educated citizens, to abandon their party and vote for Kadima in efforts to "rescue" Israel from a Benjamin Netanyahu-Avigdor Lieberman coalition.

Meretz' campaign, which focused on who could prevent the Netanyahu-Lieberman pair from gaining power, was a shot in the foot. Evidently, many voters said to themselves and to their friends that if it was so important to prevent the right wing from rising to power, why fight it indirectly by voting for a small party like Meretz when we can vote directly for a more substantial rival of the right ? Kadima.