Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year hold on power is set to end when parliament votes on a new government, ushering in an administration that has pledged to heal a nation bitterly divided over the departure of the country's longest-serving leader.
Netanyahu, 71, failed to form a government after Israel's March 23 election, its fourth in two years. The new cabinet, which will be sworn in after a Knesset confidence vote on Sunday it is expected to win, was cobbled together by the centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid and ultra-nationalist Naftali Bennett.
Bennett, a high-tech millionaire, will serve as premier for two years before Lapid, a former TV host, takes over. They will head a government that comprises parties from across the political spectrum, including for the first time one that represents the Arab minority.
Serving his first term as prime minister in the 1990s and winning four more terms since 2009, Netanyahu has been a polarising figure abroad and at home.
He is loved by his hardcore supporters and loathed by critics. His ongoing corruption trial, on charges he denies, has only deepened the chasm.
Netanyahu's opponents revile what they see as Netanyahu's divisive rhetoric, underhanded tactics and subjection of state interests to his own political survival. He is also accused of mishandling the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.
Celebrations to mark the end of the Netanyahu era began late on Saturday outside his official residence in Jerusalem, the site of weekly protests against him for the past year.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu's loyal voter base is angered by what it sees as the country turning its back on a leader dedicated to its security and a bulwark against international pressure for any steps that could lead to a Palestinian state.
None of this, however, nor the role he played in securing COVID-19 vaccines for the country's world-beating inoculation campaign, were enough to grant Netanyahu's Likud party enough votes to secure him a sixth term.
The new cabinet faces considerable diplomatic, security and financial challenges: Iran, a fragile ceasefire with Palestinian militants in Gaza, and economic recovery following the pandemic.
On top of that, their patchwork coalition commands only a razor-thin majority, 61 of the Knesset's 120 seats, and will still have to contend with Netanyahu, who is sure to be a combative opposition leader.
Australian Associated Press