Head of the ASEAN Studies Program at The Habibie Center
This week, Israel’s legislature The Knesset passed a new law by 62 votes to 55 (with two abstentions) that defines the country as a Jewish nation-state. For critics, the controversial new law further marginalizes the state’s Arab minority, who have long complained of being treated as second-class citizens.
The law declares Israel “the national home of the Jewish people”; states that the right to exercise self-determination is “unique to the Jewish people” and not its Arab minority; and declares Hebrew as the “state’s language”, with Arabic seemingly downgraded to “special status”, according to available translations.
The law appears to further complicate the Middle East peace process between Israelis and Palestinians by reiterating that Jerusalem is the “complete and united [...] capital of Israel” before going on to say that “the state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation”, despite the process being considered illegal under international law.
Although almost 9,000 kilometers separate Indonesia and Israel, issues pertaining to the Holy Land have always been close to the hearts of many Indonesians. This is unsurprising given Indonesia’s status as the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation and the important status that Al-Quds or Jerusalem has as the home of Islam’s third-most holiest site after the Kabaa and the Masjidil Haram in Mecca.
Yet, the issue also touches on Jakarta’s strong aversion to any form of colonialism, which Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian people amounts to. The Preamble to Indonesia’s Constitution declares that “all colonialism must be abolished in this world as it is not in conformity with humanity and justice” and mandates the government to “participate in the establishment of a world order based on freedom, perpetual peace and social justice”.
It was in this sense that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo campaigned in 2014 on a pledge to advance the Palestinian cause. He promised to open an Indonesian embassy in Palestine and support its effort to obtain full membership in the United Nations.
In March 2016, Indonesia opened an honorary consulate in Ramallah, appointing Palestinian businesswoman Maha Abou Susheh as honorary consul. However, the inauguration had to be moved to Amman in neighboring Jordan after an Indonesian delegation led by Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi was refused entry by Israeli authorities.
Indonesia’s support for the Palestinian cause (including Israel’s Arab minority) was manifested in other ways too. In March of the same year, Jakarta rebuffed calls from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to establish official bilateral relations. The other major manifestation of Indonesia’s support for the Palestinian cause was the holding of the fifth Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Extraordinary Summit on Palestine and Al-Quds Al-Sharif in Jakarta, also in March 2016. Over 500 delegates from the 49 OIC member states participated, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Representatives, including those from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the European Union, which, together with the United States and Russia, make up the Quartet on the Middle East, were also invited. Jokowi then stated, “The Islamic world still owes the Palestinian people their independence. The Palestinian struggle is our struggle.”
The summit adopted two documents, the Jakarta Declaration and the Resolution, both on Palestine and Al-Quds Al-Sharif. Indonesia banned Israeli passport holders from entering the country in May as a response to the killing of Palestinian civilians who were holding a demonstration over the 70th year of the Nakba (catastrophe) in the Gaza Strip.
Yet, several shortcomings are obvious. An honorary consul lacks the same authority and status as a fully fledged ambassador, with the former limited to providing assistance to Indonesian citizens in the Holy Land and advancing economic and sociocultural cooperation between Indonesia and Palestine.
Furthermore, despite Jakarta’s rejection of formal relations, Indonesia and Israel have continued to conduct covert trade; totalling US$180 million in 2015. Also, the aforementioned summit was not covered significantly in Western media.
This was perhaps unsurprising. Neither the UNSC nor the Quartet sent their foreign ministers to the summit, with countries such as the US being represented by a junior envoy and Russia and the EU by their Jakarta-based ambassadors. Jakarta’s decision to ban Israelis from visiting the country was quietly overturned after Israel temporarily responded in kind, leading to much outcry from Indonesian pilgrims wishing to travel to the Holy Land.
How, then, should Indonesia respond to Israel’s new Jewish nation-state law? What lessons does the aforementioned provide for Jakarta in determining how to react to the latest development? Does it even matter if the government takes action?
Clearly, inaction violates the noble vision of our founding fathers to rid colonialism in all its forms. Regarding past lessons, Indonesia must ensure its efforts go beyond simply hosting international gatherings and producing pretty documents.
Indonesia should do more to work with key powers such as the five permanent members of the UNSC and the Quartet to put pressure on Israel. Jakarta must also be more firm and consistent in its position.
It is simply not good enough for the government to “flip-flop” like it did with its policy on Israeli visitors or publicly declare that it does not recognize the Israeli state while allowing trade to take place. Such inconsistencies undermine Jakarta’s efforts and do nothing to help our Palestinian brothers and sisters.
The writer heads the ASEAN Studies Program, The Habibie Center, Jakarta. The views expressed are his own.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.