Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has long been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause and a vocal critic of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Indonesia has no diplomatic ties with Israel and does not recognize its statehood. However, recent developments in the Middle East and Southeast Asia have raised the possibility that Indonesia might reconsider its position and establish formal relations with Israel.
The Abraham Accords, signed in 2020, marked a historic breakthrough in the normalization of ties between Israel and several Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan. These agreements were brokered by the United States under the administration of former President Donald Trump, who also recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. embassy there. The Abraham Accords have reshaped the regional dynamics and created new opportunities for cooperation and dialogue among the signatories and other countries.
The U.S. has also been pushing for Indonesia to join the Abraham Accords and normalize its relations with Israel. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised the issue during his visit to Jakarta in November 2021, where he met with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. Blinken praised Indonesia’s role as a leader in the Muslim world and a voice for democracy and human rights. He also expressed his hope that Indonesia would “play a constructive role in advancing peace between Israelis and Palestinians”.
Indonesia has not publicly responded to Blinken’s overture, but some sources have suggested that there are ongoing talks between Indonesian and Israeli officials behind the scenes. According to a report by The Diplomat, Indonesia and Israel could be on the verge of achieving a diplomatic breakthrough, as both sides have shown interest and willingness to explore the possibility of normalization. The report cited unnamed sources who claimed that Indonesia had sent a delegation to Israel in December 2021 to discuss various issues, including trade, tourism, security, technology, and health.
Normalization could bring significant benefits for Indonesia, especially in terms of economic development and diversification. Trade relations between Indonesia and Israel are currently valued at around $500 million a year, but they could increase substantially if formal ties are established. Israel is a global leader in innovation and technology, especially in fields such as agriculture, water management, cybersecurity, defense, and health care. Indonesia could benefit from Israeli expertise and investment in these sectors, as well as from increased tourism and cultural exchange.
Challenges and Obstacles
However, normalization also faces formidable challenges and obstacles, both externally and domestically. Externally, Indonesia would have to balance its relations with other Muslim countries, especially Iran and Turkey, which have strongly opposed the Abraham Accords and condemned any recognition of Israel. Indonesia would also have to deal with the implications of normalization for its support for the Palestinian cause and its stance on the status of Jerusalem.
Domestically, normalization would face strong opposition from various political and social groups, especially those with Islamist leanings or affiliations. These groups have staged protests against Israel’s actions in Palestine and called for boycotts of Israeli products. They have also pressured the government to maintain its solidarity with the Palestinian people and reject any compromise with Israel. Normalization would require Jokowi to overcome this opposition and obtain parliamentary approval for any agreement with Israel.
In conclusion, normalization of relations between Indonesia and Israel is not impossible, but it is not imminent either. It would require careful diplomacy, strategic calculation, political courage, and public persuasion from both sides. It would also depend on the developments in the Middle East peace process and the U.S. policy toward the region under President Joe Biden. For now, Indonesia and Israel remain distant neighbors with no formal ties, but with potential for closer cooperation in the future.