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Israel-Indonesia — deja vu all over again

Israel squandered a golden opportunity when it blocked a visit to the PA from the world's biggest Muslim nation

Recent efforts by the Indonesian government to establish relations with the Palestinian authority in Ramallah have once again fallen victim to Israel’s lack of clear policy objectives and savoir faire when it comes to relations with the world’s biggest Muslim nation.

Just like a few years ago when similar efforts went amiss on the same background, Israel’s demand for Indonesian officials to also visit Israel should they want to visit the Palestinian Authority, once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. No lessons learned.

Netanyahu’s published call on Indonesia to establish diplomatic relations with Israel which came in the wake of this diplomatic fiasko only added insult to injury to the already fragile relations.

If Israel wants to improve relations with Indonesia it has to take into account the following facts:

  1. As long as there is no clear political horizon with regard to the Palestinian issue, there will be no substantative change in relations between Israel and Indonesia. None, period.
  2. As long as there is no continuous, frequent and discrete exchange of views with Indonesia at the political level, diplomatic mishaps like the recent botched visit by Indonesian FM Retno Marsudi to the area will repeat themselves.
  3. If Israel intends to keep disclosing its diplomatic overtures and/or meetings with Indonesian officials on a regular basis, these rare opportunities for an open exchange of views will become fewer and fewer.

Looking at the recent developments it is clear that the professionals at the Foreign MInistry in Jerusalem have either fallen asleep at the wheel, or, more likely, have been completely sidelined by the political echelon which pursues its short-term objectives with a total lack of sensitivity and know-how.

Indonesia is not just another South East Asian country that should be interested in great relations with the Start-Up Nation. Unlike many other Asian countries who couldn’t care less what exactly is happening in the West Bank (even though they politically subscribe, by and large, to the policy of the Quartet when it comes to the occupation), Indonesia’s people and government are totally united and emotionally engaged in their support of the Palestinian cause. Nevertheless, neither Indonesians nor their government are substantially anti-Israel. During the recent OIC conference convened by Jakarta on the Palestinian issue, Indonesia led the passage of a declaration calling for an international conference to advance the two-state solution, a decision even supported by Iran (!), as reported by Dr. Giora Eliraz in the daily “Israel Hayom” on March 22. The call for a boycott of Israel (in the same declaration) was duly limited to products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

While the mutual potential of improved bilateral relations is substantial in the economical and political realm, both countries appear to prefer keeping them stunted, just the way they are now. Indonesia is wary of the possible internal fallout that could cause vocal if politically weak Islamic radicals to hit the streets of Jakarta in protest of any rapprochement with Israel, whereas Israel has no clear policy objectives, nor does it appear to have the wisdom to operate discretely or the will to do so. In short, opportunities wasted.

The author is Vice-Chairman of the Israel-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce and co-publisher of the book “Start-up Nation” in the Indonesian language.

About the Author
The author served in the Prime Minister’s Office as a member of the intelligence community, is a member of the Council for Peace and Security and was a candidate in Labor’s 2012 primary election for the Knesset list