Headlines

Palestine issue still low
on ASEAN agenda

South American countries have announced they would formally recognize a Palestine state based on pre-1967 borders, adding to the 100 countries which already do so, although questions remain about how much leverage the recognition exerts.

Argentina on Monday followed in the footsteps of fellow Mercosur member state Brazil in recognizing a Palestinian state, and Uruguay, also in Mercosur, pledged to follow suit next year. In Asia, many countries have recognized Palestine as a state, but at different levels of commitment.

Dalindra Aman, a senior diplomat and now a member of the Club of Former Indonesian Ambassadors to the Middle East, said different political interests in Asia made it difficult for regional groupings here to reach a consensus on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

For ASEAN, the Middle East conflict hovers at the bottom of the group’s agenda, weighed down by other priorities such as political reform in Myanmar.

“Member states are divided between those who want to establish ties with Israel and those who support Palestine and refuse to acknowledge Israel,” Dalindra said.

“In this case, it is difficult to draw any significant support from ASEAN for the settlement of the issue. Israeli diplomats would work to influence member states from taking sides with the Palestinians or from having ASEAN as a grouping recognize a Palestinian state.”

Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei have no diplomatic ties with Israel and the three countries recognized a Palestinian state since its first unilateral declaration of independence in 1988. Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia and Laos have also recognized a Palestinian state, but maintain diplomatic ties with Israel.

ASEAN leaders have reiterated their support for Israelis and Palestinians to “live side by side in peace” but each member state has its own position, given that “living side by side” seems a distant possibility.

Palestinians have sought to renew their unilateral declaration of independence amid the stalemate in the peace talks, with Indonesia immediately throwing its weight behind Palestine’s plans.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said earlier that Jakarta would support any decision made by Palestine, but did not comment on whether it would mean a change in Jakarta’s position on a two-state solution.

Reuters reported that Israel assailed Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay on Tuesday for declaring their recognition of a Palestinian state, calling it “highly damaging interference” by countries that were never part of the Middle East peace process.

“They never made any contribution to it and now they’re making a decision that is completely contrary to everything that has been agreed to so far,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

“It is absurd.”

Jakarta will chair ASEAN next year and is a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, leading to expectations that the issue may get a higher profile among the grouping.

“Muslims here may want to see the issue get voiced in ASEAN, but we know that the Indonesian government could face pressure from other member states not to do so,” Indonesian Society for Middle
East Studies researcher Fahmi Salsabila said.

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