|Description||Meretz was formed in 1992 prior to the elections by an alliance of three left-wing parties; Ratz, Mapam and Shinui, and was initially led by Ratz's chairwoman and long-time Knesset member Shulamit Aloni. The name "Meretz" (מרצ) was chosen as an acronym for Mapam (מפ"ם) and Ratz (רצ). The third party of the alliance wasn't reflected in its name, but was instead mentioned in the party's campaign slogan: "ממשלה עם מרצ, הכוח לעשות את השינוי" (A government with vigor [Meretz], the strength to make the change [Shinui]). Its first electoral test was a success, with the party winning twelve seats, making it the third largest in the Knesset. Meretz became the major coalition partner of Yitzhak Rabin's Labour Party, helping pave the way for the Oslo Accords. The party also picked up several ministerial portfolios; Aloni was made Minister of Education, though disputes over the role of religion in education meant she was moved out of the education ministry to become Minister Without Portfolio in May 1993. In June she became Minister of Communications and Minister of Science and Technology, a role that was later renamed Minister of Science and the Arts. Amnon Rubinstein became Minister of Energy and Infrastructure and Minister of Science and Technology and later Minister of Education, Culture, and Sport, whilst Yossi Sarid was named Minister of the Environment and Yair Tzaban Minister of Immigrant Absorption. |
After the 1996 elections, in which Meretz lost a quarter of its seats, Aloni lost internal leadership elections to Yossi Sarid and retired. In 1997 the three parties officially merged into a single entity, though part of Shinui (under the leadership of Avraham Poraz) broke away to form a separate movement. Later in the Knesset session David Zucker also left the party to sit as an independent MK.
The 1999 elections saw the party regain some of its former strength, picking up 10 seats, including the first ever female Israeli Arab MK, Hussniya Jabara. Meretz were invited into Ehud Barak's coalition, with Sarid becoming Education Minister, Ran Cohen Minister of Industry and Trade, and Haim Oron Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. However, after Ariel Sharon beat Barak in a special election for Prime Minister in 2001, Meretz left the government.
On October 22, 2002, Meretz MK Uzi Even made history by becoming the first openly gay Member of Knesset, after Amnon Rubinstein retired. This created a vacancy and Even was next on the Meretz list. His term lasted less than three months, however, as the Knesset was dissolved in January, 2003. Even's entry to the Knesset was met by mixed reactions from the ultra-orthodox parties; Shas's Nissim Ze'ev was the harshest, saying Even "symbolized the bestialization of humanity," adding that he should be "hidden under the carpet" and banned from entering the Knesset.
For the 2003 elections, Meretz were joined by Roman Bronfman's Democratic Choice. However, the party shrank again, this time to just six seats. Sarid immediately took responsibility and resigned from leadership, though he did not retire from the Knesset and continued serving as an MK, before stepping down prior to the 2006 elections.
In December 2003, Meretz was disbanded in order to merge with Yossi Beilin's non-parliamentary Shahar (Hebrew: שח"ר) movement. The original name suggested for the new party was Ya'ad (Hebrew: יעד, Goal), but was not used because it sounded like the Russian word for poison ("yad"), and it was feared that it might alienate Israel's one million Russian-speaking voters (although there had been two parties previously in Israel using the name - Ya'ad and Ya'ad – Civil Rights Movement, the latter ironically a forerunner of Meretz, they both existed before large-scale immigration from the Soviet Union). Instead, the name Yachad (Hebrew: יח"ד) was chosen. As well as meaning "Together", it is also a Hebrew acronym for Social-Democratic Israel (Hebrew: ישראל חברתית דמוקרטית, Yisrael Hevratit Demokratit).
The new party was established in order to unite and resuscitate the Israeli Zionist peace camp, which had been soundly defeated in the 2003 elections (dropping from 56 Knesset members in 1992 to 24 in 2003) following the al-Aqsa Intifada. The party's purpose was to unite a variety of dovish Zionist movements with the dovish wing of the Labor Party. However, the efforts were largely unsuccessful as, except for the original Meretz, Shahar and Democratic Choice, no other movement joined the new party. It has suffered from declining popular interest in left-wing peace movements, as a result of continued Palestinian terrorism, and only 20,000 people are now registered members of the party, half the number who were prior to the 1999 party primaries.
In March 2004, Yossi Beilin was elected party leader, beating Ran Cohen, and started a two year term as the first chairman of Yachad. In July 2005 the party decided to change its name to Meretz-Yachad, because opinion polls revealed that the name Yachad was not recognisable to the Israeli public, and that they preferred the old name Meretz. The chairman Beilin opposed the motion to revert the name to Meretz and a compromise between the old and new names, Meretz-Yachad, was agreed upon.
However, in the 2006 election campaign the party dropped the Yachad part, running as just Meretz, under the slogan "Meretz on the left, the Human in the centre". Nevertheless, it failed to stop the party's decline, as they won just five seats, the lowest total in the party's history. If they had picked up another seat, Tsvia Greenfeld, sixth on the party list, would have become the first ever female Ultra-orthodox Knesset member.
In the party leadership contest in late 2007 Beilin withdrew his candidacy after it became clear that Haim Oron was leading in the polls. Oron went on to win the internal elections held on 18 March 2008 with 54.5% of the vote, beating Ran Cohen (27.1%) and Zehava Gal-On (18.1%) to become Meretz's new chairman.