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Barak built bridges to opponents

Voters have provided Labor's Ehud Barak a Knesset that will lend itself to the formation of a center-left coalition government with a wide margin of support.

This will give Mr. Barak a relatively stable majority of at least 70 out of 120 seats, compared with a narrow 61 that Benjamin Netanyahu had.

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Mr. Netanyahu's resignation from the right-wing Likud on May 17, when defeat became apparent, even opens the possibility that a Likud under the leadership of a new chairman would be invited to join Barak's government.

That could allow Barak to produce perhaps the broadest-ever Israeli consensus on matters of peace and security.

"I intend to be everyone's prime minister," he said May 18 in an acceptance speech at a Tel Aviv hotel that sounded emotional for the famously cool Barak, just before addressing jubilant crowds gathered at Rabin Square sometime after 3 a.m. "From this moment on we are all together. We are one people. We are brothers."

He devised the formula for his winning ticket when he decided to bring in two political movements - one representing dovish Orthodox Jews and another representing former Foreign Minister David Levy's moderate Sephardic followers - to form a "One Israel" coalition.

Though his own party resisted the move because it would mean vacating key slots for some of its senior members, Barak knew it would allow him to boast broader support that crosses religious and ethnic divides.

Rabbi Michael Melchior, who was in charge of negotiating the religious Meimad faction's entry into the One Israel slate with Barak, says he went into those talks feeling skeptical. But he says Barak was extraordinarily convincing.

"I think he's going to be tough to deal with," says Rabbi Melchior, now a new Knesset member. "He sets himself a target, and he doesn't give up until he reaches it."

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