The Dilemma of Opening Indonesia-Israel Diplomatic Relations

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Palestine Indonesia
(Priv. Doc.)

Jakarta, IO – An Israeli media outlet, The Jerusalem Post recently published an online reportage in September 2022 insisting that a “secret delegation” from Indonesia was scheduled to depart for Israel to engage in “secret visits”. While this claim is unbelievable enough, the report further adds that relations between Israel and Indonesia have grown warmer in the last few months of 2021, notably in the realm of trade and tourism. Finally, the report mentions the possibility of normalisation of Indonesia-Israel ties, a view upheld by American officials. 

This was certainly not the first time rumours pertaining to the opening of diplomatic relations between the two countries were circulated, and likely would not be the last. Such false claims have been widespread many times in the past by both Indonesian and foreign (especially Israeli) media, a move that Indonesia’s foreign ministry believes is aimed to frame the issue for Israel’s benefit. The question of whether Indonesia should or should not actually push the agenda forward has been subject to controversy. 

High-level Israeli officials have kept the possibility open for decades. When Indonesia held chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin visited Jakarta to meet President Soeharto in person. Reportedly, the visit was aimed to promote opportunities of cooperation with Israel and garner support in the Middle East peace process. Indonesian minister Murdiono later stated that Indonesia was not at all considering establishment of diplomatic relations, likely because the meeting itself sent mixed signals to outside observers. 

Some high-ranking Indonesian officials have teased upon the idea as well. In 1999, President Abdurrahman Wahid’s government planned to open “economic and trade links” with Israel as part of its commitment to interfaith tolerance. It was also hoped to boost local economic recovery after Indonesia was hit hard by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. But as expected, this plan was met with intense domestic opposition. Protests by Muslim organisations, students, and members of parliament were widespread. His successors never publicly made such politically dangerous comments.