How to Normalize Diplomatic Relations between Indonesia and Israel?

Several news outlets in Indonesia today quoted the news from the Time of Israel about the opportunity to normalize Indonesia’s diplomatic relations with Israel. And as usual, this topic is not an ordinary topic, a topic that is intellectually interesting to debate, but contains a political precedent that was not good for whoever is the ruler of Indonesia. Because the late president Abdurahman Wahid or Gus Dur had proposed the idea of ​​normalizing diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Israel during his reign in 1999-2000. But as a result, the proposal became one of the reasons for Gus Dur’s removal from the presidency at that time. Gur Dur’s political opponents took advantage of the issue to increase the hatred of the Indonesian public towards Gus Dur and Israel

How exactly is Indonesia’s position against Israel? Actually Indonesia’s political position towards Israel is not based on national interests, not based on economic and defense benefits or the like, but rather on the political surge of solidarity against the struggle for Palestinian independence and the spirit of the Arab Initiative echoed by the Arab League which carries the Islamic flag, even though Indonesia does not participate in the agreement. And at the level of domestic discourse, till today the debate stops there. There has hardly been any discourse that has surfaced discussing the benefits that Indonesia can get if it normalizes diplomatic relations with Israel. Such a discourse is considered taboo because immediately whoever starts it will be labeled Zionist and anti-Islamic.

In fact, such a constellation of public spaces is very unproductive. Indonesians are mechanically forced to hate Israel, without understanding what the problem is and what its long history is like. But that is the fact. If you want to discuss everything about Israel, you must discuss it quietly, away from the public sphere. Especially since several political parties that have received role models from the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey are getting more and more room on the political stage, they are increasingly stirring up their antipathy towards Israel and everything about Israel, even though they also know that there are many Indonesians who travel to Israel and Jerusalem, which often end in business deals with Israeli businessmen.

In addition, in Indonesia there are also several million Shia followers, who are quite dominant in controlling the public space and public opinion in Indonesia. They are no longer even like Indonesians, but like Iranians, who have never taken the time to build a positive opinion against Israel for a second. It is estimated that there are 3-4 million Shia followers in Indonesia, who are very active in conducting political advocacy and disseminating teachings through various communication media instruments. And more than that, they are also closely tied to the nationalists who are currently in power in Indonesia. Several Indonesian Shia figures made them to parliament through the Indonesian Democratic Party, which incidentally is the main party supporting Jokowi.

Geopolitically, some of the main figures in the nationalist camp, including Jokowi, are said to have close ties with Xi Jinping and China, which has the opportunity to provoke anti-Israel movements in Indonesia through the hands of conglomerates of Chinese descent who control the Indonesian economy. This is because geopolitically, normalizing diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Israel will strengthen America’s role in Indonesia, via the economic, investment and defense concessions that Indonesia requests if normalization is carried out. That would be bad news for China, which wants to strengthen its influence in Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia. And like it or not, if that happens, then China will be more aggressive in the South China Sea and Natuna Sea (Indonesia), maybe even China will carry out a trade war with Indonesia, such as China and Australia, which Indonesia might be afraid of because of China is Indonesia’s main trading partner

However, if Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, and America can approach some of the main figures in the Jokowi government coalition, such as Prabowo Subianto and Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, and some of the main moderate Islamic figures from Nahdatul Ulama, that can neutralize resistance from Islamic fundamentalists and dislike China’s domination, the chances of normalizing diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Israel will be even more likely. Indonesia needs investment from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the United States, Indonesia needs technology in the defense sector from America and Israel, as well as agricultural and marine technology, as well as touches from Israeli and American capital ventures to build Indonesia’s digital economy ecosystem. So if the offers from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel and America are promising, then nothing is impossible. The current government is supported by more than 70 percent of the vote in Parliament. If negotiations are successful with the main figures in the government and in the coalition, then nothing is impossible, normalization can very much be realized.

About the Author
An International Political Economy and Strategic Analyst, A Senior Fellow for Indonesia Strategic and Economic Action Institution
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