Indonesia, Palestine and the Way Forward

By Terry Lacey – Jakarta

The Indonesian Government, and its special Middle East Envoy Alwi Shihab were focusing on economic co-operation with the Arab world, to help combat the global economic crisis. Now Indonesia wants to act on Palestine but finds the Arab world divided. Indonesia will have to navigate this divide in politics and economics.

Indonesia has growing economic and political links with Iran and Syria, which attended the Qatar Summit along with Lebanon, Sudan, Algeria and a total of 15 Arab and North African states, plus the elected Palestinian government of Hamas.

Indonesia also has important links with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who helped lead the Kuwait Summit, attended by Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, who controls the appointed West Bank government.

The Gaza war was fought by Israel and Hamas. The PLO claim to be the sole international representative of the Palestinians but only controls the West Bank. The war put the focus on Hamas and Gaza.

Indonesian viewers were bombarded with TV pictures of the Gaza war in which 1,330 people died, with 5,450 wounded. The dead included 437 children under 16, 110 women, 123 elderly men, 14 medics and four journalists, according to Muawiya Hassanein, head of Gaza medical services. (AFP 22 Jan).

Indonesia questioned why the UN was not able to call a more rapid halt to Israeli attacks.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was disappointed at the weakness of Security Council Resolution No.1860. He lobbied with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Syrian Prime Minister Mohammad Naji Otri for Israeli compliance and for a second Security Council resolution. Indonesia was a proponent of the General Assembly resolution to push Israel harder. This was passed Jan 16 by 142 votes to 4 but Indonesia abstained.

Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian Ambassador to the UN said the GA resolution did not go far enough “In condemning Israel”. 

Broto Wardoyo, a Middle East scholar at the University of Indonesia said the absence of official contacts with Israel or Hamas made it harder for Indonesia to be involved.

Indonesian International law expert Todung Mulya Lubis concluded, at a seminar of the Congress of Indonesian Advocates in Jakarta (Jan 7) that it was impossible to get rid of Israel or Palestine or Fatah or Hamas.

Yunahar Ilyas, deputy chairman of Muhammadiyah, the second largest Muslim group in Indonesia, said (Jakarta Post Jan 6), it would not be easy to unite typically authoritarian Arab Governments behind Gaza and the Palestinians:

“Unity can perhaps be reached if all incumbent leaders of the Arab states are replaced, because most people in these countries are actually ready to unite to fight Israel and its allies”, he said.

As a result of the war Hamas may have gained support in the Arab and Muslim street, and some recognition by states. It could win another Palestinian general election, despite the efforts of Israel, the US under Bush and the EU to isolate, ban and blockade it as terrorist. 

President Obama´s new Middle East Mediator, George Mitchell, has Northern Ireland experience in negotiating political progress, whilst tackling terrorism, without banning the political movement involved.

But without reunification by ballot, as suggested by Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian peace negotiator, Gaza and the West Bank might make separate deals with Israel.

Indonesia, like Turkey, is a secular democratic state in which political Islam plays a constitutional role in government, and could help in three ways:

First it may be more trusted by Palestinians including Hamas, and Israel, to provide peace-keepers.

Second it can support the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), to promote Palestinian reunification, alongside the Arab League.

Thirdly it can demonstrate that political Islam can be moderate and responsible.

If the West, led by President Obama, can make a fresh start by ending the blockade of Gaza and isolation of Hamas, then reconstruction, backed by many countries, including Islamic Finance, could be a first step to reunification.

– Dr Terry Lacey is a development economist who writes from Jakarta, Indonesia, on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking. He contributed this article to

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