In the final results of the election, the most venomous fought in Israel, Mr Barak won 56 per cent of the vote compared with 44 per cent for his opponent. This is a triumph in Israel, where elections are normally decided by a few thousand votes.
The election was also a sweeping victory for the secular centre left over parties of the nationalist right. This makes it easier for Mr Barak to win support for territorial compromise by Israel in the West Bank and the Golan Heights, areas it captured in 1967.
The need for a solution to Israel's problems in Lebanon, where it has been fighting a long guerrilla war, was underlined by katyusha rocket fire across the border overnight. Mr Barak is pledged to withdraw Israeli troops from Lebanon within a year of taking office, which means talks with Syria over the Golan. The Israeli party dedicated to keeping the Golan failed to get re-elected.
Mr Barak must now put together a government in the next 45 days, a task complicated by the election of 15 different parties. He has a wide choice of coalition partners, but may have difficulties because confrontation between the ultra-orthodox and their opponents was such a feature of the election campaign.
Anti-clerical parties such as the left-liberal Meretz and the newly formed Shinui party did well at the polls, but so did Shas, the party of the ultra-orthodox Sephardi, now the third biggest party in the Knesset. Shas might be a natural partner for Mr Barak because it accepts territorial compromise, but it is led by Arieh Deri, recently sentenced to four years in prison for accepting bribes.
Mr Deri was reported to be on the verge of resigning from the Knesset last night, but there are few doubts that he will still pull strings from behind the scenes. Shas is also at daggers drawn with Yisrael Ba'aliyah, the Russian party of Natan Sharansky, with whom it competes for control of the Interior Ministry. Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Shas, said just before the election that Yisrael Ba'aliyah "wants to bring in goyim [gentiles] from Russia and from hell".
Mr Barak might bring into his government the defeated Likud party of Mr Netanyahu as well as the Centre Party, which played a critical role in his downfall. Mr Netanyahu's political career is assumed to be finished, with his party blaming him for sacrificing them to his political ambition.
The first sign that other problems remain unresolved was the start of building yesterday by the extreme settler group Ateret Cohanim of 130 houses in a Palestinian neighbourhood of Jerusalem.
Palestinians await Mr Barak's reaction to such settlement activity.Reuse content