BARAK'S TRIUMPH: `Today we rejoin the family of nations'

The Morning After
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By Eric Silver in Jerusalem

DEFEATED CANDIDATES collapse in a heap. Winners carry on as if they could run a second marathon. While Israel's former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vanished from sight yesterday, Ehud Barak was busy signalling to the cameras that he meant to be "everybody's Prime Minister", and reaffirming his pledge to follow in the path of his old commander, Yitzhak Rabin.

First he went to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where he looked far from comfortable, a clean-shaven kibbutz boy among the black hats, bushy beards and chanting Hassidim.

"At this place, Jews have prayed throughout the generations and it is fitting that the message of brotherhood should go out from here," said the secular Mr Barak, whose grandfather was a rabbi in Lithuania.

Unlike Mr Netanyahu, who went to the same place on Monday morning, he did not post a note to the Almighty between the stones.

Then he went to Mr Rabin's grave on Mount Herzl, high above the city, where his discreet school-teacher wife, Nava, laid flowers and embraced the lost leader's widow.

Mr Netanyahu prepared his excuses a week ago. The press, he instructed Likud activists, was a tool in the hands of an elite that had conspired to destroy him and them. Yesterday's reaction in the media can only have fuelled his paranoia. Comments in the Hebrew papers have ranged from glee to schadenfreude. No one mourned his downfall, though there was little outright enthusiasm for Mr Barak either.

"What happened was the final expulsion from political life of an unworthy man, a man who disappointed and lied to everyone," Yoel Marcus thundered in the liberal daily Ha'aretz.

The nation, others suggested, was still stunned by its own audacity. "Israel woke up this morning and didn't recognise itself in the mirror," Hemi Shalev mused in the tabloid Ma'ariv. "Last night we were a clerical, right-wing nation. Today we are social democrats and the knights of pluralism.

"Last night we were a society falling apart, in which the rule of law was trodden under foot. Today we have new hope of norms, values and morals. Yesterday we were on a collision course with our neighbours and our friends. Today we have rejoined the family of nations," she wrote.

In the same paper, Amnon Dankner lamented Netanya-hu's fall, "the tragedy of an educated, graceful man, blessed with talent, who fell victim to his own flawed character".

But Mr Barak has still to prove himself. "Barak doesn't stir love," Sima Kadmon cautioned in the mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot. "The real test of his leadership starts this morning."