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Israel and Indonesia Were Supposed to Normalize Relations in October of Last Year: Sources


Israel and Indonesia had planned to officially announce the establishment of normalized relations in October of the previous year, according to new reports, however, the announcement was allegedly postponed due to the Hamas terror attack on Israel and the ongoing war.

Three individuals involved in the diplomatic talks informed Jewish Insider that Israel's former Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and the office of departing Indonesian President Joko Widodo had endorsed a final version of an agreement. The normalization agreement reportedly sought to establish trade offices between Jerusalem and Jakarta, serving as an initial move toward establishing full diplomatic relations.

October 2023 appeared to be the probable time for the formal declaration, coinciding with the Negev Forum's scheduled gathering in the middle of the month. November was also considered an option by negotiators, given President Widodo's visit to the White House.

According to one source, Jakarta was monitoring advancements in Israel-Saudi Arabia normalization, anticipating potentially lesser backlash if both diplomatic moves occurred close together within a brief timeframe.

At the same time, Indonesia intended to establish a trade office in Ramallah, West Bank.

Officials from President Widodo's administration, Ronen Levy, who served as the director-general of the Foreign Ministry and was instrumental in the Abraham Accords, and Dan Shapiro, the United States State Department's senior advisor for regional integration at the time, convened in Jerusalem in September 2023. According to a photograph supplied by one of the sources participating in the discussions, they were joined by New York businessman and entrepreneur Joey Allaham, who also played a significant role in the negotiations.

“The back channel between Israel and Indonesia runs deep. It runs through Australia and Thailand. Many Indonesian politicians have quietly visited Israel over the past 15 years, and influential Indonesian journalists have likewise visited the Jewish state," Michael Rubin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) who specializes in the Middle East, Africa, and Turkey said.

While Shapiro attended and other American officials were informed about the discussions, Jakarta did not make any particular demands of Washington.

Prabowo Subianto, the newly elected President of Indonesia, has been a proponent of fostering closer ties with Jerusalem for quite some time. During his tenure as Indonesia's defense minister, he held discussions with Eyal Hulata, who was then serving as Israel's national security adviser. These negotiations occurred before the recent election. However, President Widodo intended to conclude the process of fully normalizing relations with Israel before his term concluded.

"The two countries have perpetually been on the verge of establishing joint offices, but Indonesian leaders have been fundamentally Schizophrenic: Saying one thing in private and another in public," Rubin told The Foreign Desk.

"Even before October 7, Indonesian leaders were afraid to make the relationship openness their own Islamist populists take advantage. The biggest change since October 7 is that even those Indonesians most favorable toward normalization with Israel now find it politically necessary to engage in the rabid rejectionism in order to appease a pro-terrorist constituency," he added.

The parties also discussed the possibility of lifting Israel's inclusion on Indonesia's visa blacklist. Numerous Christian pilgrims from Indonesia travel to Israel annually, yet Israelis lacking dual citizenship face significant hurdles in visiting Indonesia, particularly the sought-after tourist spot of Bali.

The preliminary agreement was reached following approximately four months of discussions. Israelis involved in various sectors, particularly agri-tech and American Jews collaborating with Indonesia, helped facilitate the rapprochement between the two nations. A senior diplomatic source told the Jewish Insider that once the war in Gaza began, "the sides said we need to wait because the timing is problematic."

The same source emphasized that Jakarta "did not say the agreement is off the table — it just was not the right timing."

The high-ranking diplomatic insider further mentioned that Jakarta's decision to establish relations with Israel was influenced by the positive outcomes observed in the relationship between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) following the signing of the Abraham Accords under the Trump administration. Additionally, Indonesia's significant Christian minority, comprising of approximately 29 million individuals, which accounts for about 10% of the population, holds favorable views toward Israel.

Following the October 7 massacre by Hamas against Israel, the Islamic Republic of Iran has called upon Muslim nations to revoke their normalization agreements with Israel and support Hamas. During the United Nations (UN) Conference on Disarmament held on Tuesday, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi urged for a halt in the delivery of weapons to Israel.

"At the end of my statement, I conveyed condemnation of Israel's plan to use nuclear weapons to threaten the residents of Gaza. I also urged a stop to weapons shipment to Israel to prevent more fatalities," Marsudi said at the conference. During her visit to Geneva, Marsudi also participated in a session focusing on Palestine, where she emphasized Israel's infringement of human rights in Gaza and advocated against double standards within the global community.

"With the current situation in Gaza and Palestine, I asked if we will remain silent. Ideally, the answer should be no. In closing, I conveyed how we need to remain united; we must continue to work together to fight against the injustice that has gone on for so long against the nation of Palestine," Indonesia's Foreign Minister said.

"Ultimately, such theatrics will be Indonesia's loss. Indonesian businessmen and farmers and the island archipelago's tech sector stand to gain much more from relations," Rubin explained. "The irony of Indonesia's anti-Israel stance today is that left to their own devices, Indonesia takes a far more lethal stand toward terrorists than does Israel. One look at Indonesia's prisons and use of capital punishment demonstrates that" he said to The Foreign Desk.

Related Story: What the Israel-Hamas Conflict Means for the Abraham Accords

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