Calling 2020 an unusual year would be quite the understatement. This was, after all, the year of a global pandemic without cure sweeping the world, shuttering the nations in isolation, grinding health care systems, international travel and everyday life to a halt and bringing business, economies and livelihoods to their knees.
Israel was far from immune to the fallout, facing the onslaught of COVID-19 alongside the rest of the world. However, the coronavirus was but one of the weighty matters Israel walked through over the past 12 months.
The year kicked off with the unveiling of US President Trump’s Peace to Prosperity plan. Then, Blue and White party leader Benjamin (Benny) Gantz agreed to join his main rival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—a man he vowed never to serve with—in a deal that provided Israel with a unity government, ended a year of political deadlock and spared Israelis from the fourth round of national elections in a year.
As the new government was sworn in, Netanyahu vowed to apply sovereignty over Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, unleashing a firestorm of condemnation in the international community. The prime minister’s sovereignty plans faced a few more bumps in the road and were finally set aside—for the time being—to pursue regional peace gains.
Then the world watched history in the making in August when the United Arab Emirates announced it was normalizing ties with Israel, making it the third Arab state to do so in the 72 years since the rebirth of Israel, following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. Bahrain followed suit less than a month later, and according to those in the know, more Arab countries will soon join the peace fold.
Even as the world suffered through one of the worst crises in our generation, is it any wonder that all eyes were once again on Israel in 2020?
“We prevented fourth elections. We will protect democracy. We will fight the coronavirus and take care of all Israeli citizens. There is a national emergency government.”
—Alternate Prime Minister Gantz hails the unity government with Netanyahu
“A unity government as a response to a national emergency is based on consensus, formed in light of very severe military or economic crises…A unity government forges a basis of solidarity and gives the political system a breather, during which time it can make fateful decisions that fall within the national consensus.”
—The Israel Democracy Institute defines a unity government
“We warmly welcome the announcement of the formation of a new government of Israel. We are extremely fortunate to have such strong and experienced partners in Jerusalem, and we will work together to advance the security and prosperity of our peoples.”
—US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
“…The agreement marks an end to one of the most turbulent periods in Israeli political history and amounts to a victory for Mr. Netanyahu…”
—Tom Bateman, BBC correspondent
“It’s a remarkable achievement. The coronavirus certainly played a role by creating a feeling of emergency, a feeling that the arguments between the pro-Netanyahu and anti-Netanyahu camps needed to be put aside in favor of setting up a unity government.”
—Senior correspondent Anshel Pfeffer
“I promised the State of Israel a national emergency government that would work to save the lives and livelihoods of Israeli citizens.”
—Prime Minister Netanyahu
“This will not be the government of my dreams…This apparently will also not be the dream government of Netanyahu. But at the end of the day, the people wanted and needed unity. The time has come to put everything aside and focus on the good of the State of Israel.”
—Alternate Prime Minister Gantz
“They are kicking the political footballs down the road until they see if this government can function.”
—Jason Pearlman, former adviser to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, expressing his reservations about the unity government
“Few took seriously the United Arab Emirates argument that full normalization of relations with Israel as part of the US-brokered ‘Abraham Accords’ would actually halt annexation of territories in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria].”
—Oraib Al Rantawi, founder and director general of the Amman-based Al Quds Center for Political Studies
“There is no change in my plan to apply our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, in full coordination with the United States. I am committed, it has not changed.”
—Prime Minister Netanyahu on the day the UAE deal was announced
“The word suspend was chosen carefully by all the parties. ‘Suspend’ by definition, look it up, means a temporary halt. It’s off the table now but it’s not off the table permanently.”
—US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman assures that sovereignty is a matter of time
“Israel has agreed to suspend the annexation, to suspend applying Israeli law to those areas for the time being. But in the future it is a discussion that I am sure will be had…”
—US Special Adviser Jared Kushner makes it clear that sovereignty is not off the table
“This concept of ‘peace through withdrawal and weakness’ is gone from the world. It has been replaced by a different concept: genuine peace, peace for peace, peace through strength. This is what we are advancing today.”
—Prime Minister Netanyahu celebrates two peace deals in 30 days
“This historic diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East region and is a testament to the bold diplomacy and vision of the three leaders and the courage of the United Arab Emirates and Israel to chart a new path that will unlock the great potential in the region.”
—Joint statement of the United States, the State of Israel and the United Arab Emirates
“Another HISTORIC breakthrough today! Our two GREAT friends Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain agree to a Peace Deal—the second Arab country to make peace with Israel in 30 days!”
—President Trump hails the second peace deal between Israel and a Gulf state
“Blessed are the peacemakers. Mabruk and Mazal Tov [congratulations in Arabic and Hebrew]!”
—US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulates Israel and the UAE on a historic peace
“Today, we are ready—we are already witnessing a change in the heart of the Middle East, a change that will send hope around the world.”
—Emirati Foreign Minister Bin Zayed at the signing of the Abraham Accords
“We are here to change the course of history. We mark the dawn of a new Middle East.”
—President Trump at the signing of the Abraham Accords
“For far too long, the Palestinians have had a veto on peace, not only between the Palestinians and Israel, but Israel and the Arab states…As more Arab and Muslim countries join the circle of peace [the Palestinians] will be hard-pressed to remain outside. We are ready to till fields of peace and bring its bountiful fruits to our people.”
—Prime Minister Netanyahu
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