Indonesia has frozen plans, announced last month, to open a consulate in Ramallah, headed by a diplomat with the rank of ambassador, who would also unofficially have served as his country’s point man for contacts with Israel.
The move would have represented a de facto upgrading of relations between Israel and the world’s most populous Muslim country, and was agreed upon after sensitive deliberations that continued for five years. Now Indonesia has “postponed” the move, its foreign minister said, because “We don’t want to interact with Israel.”
Opening the office would have required coordinating with Israel, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa was quoted in the Jakarta Post as saying late last week. And Indonesia, which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, was not prepared to do this, he said.
“Since Indonesia has yet to recognize Israel, we must [put on] hold the [plans for a consulate] because we still don’t want to open [diplomatic ties] with the occupying state. We will appoint an honorary consul there [in Ramallah] instead to represent us in Palestine. The government of Palestine understands the situation,” Marty said. “The problem is not with Palestine,” he stressed.
He said Indonesian officials wanted no contact with Israel and therefore, in the West Bank, “we have to travel by helicopter from Ramallah to Jordan, for example, so we don’t have to pass through checkpoints run by the Israeli authorities.”
News of the postponed plan came as Israel barred Natalegawa and several other foreign ministers from crossing into the West Bank on Sunday for a planned meeting in support of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
Indonesia, which hosts the group, and the other 12 members of the Non-Aligned Movement’s special committee for Palestinian rights slammed the move, which they said was unjustified.
“Israel’s argument that some participating countries have no diplomatic ties so that it did not allow the participant to enter Ramallah is weak because it is known that the conference is going to be held in Palestine, not in Israel,” the group said in a statement.
The foreign ministers had been traveling to a meeting intended to show support for the Palestinian Authority’s upcoming statehood bid at the United Nations. Israel decided not to permit entry by officials from countries with which it does not have diplomatic relations. The foreign ministers of Cuba, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Algeria, who were planning to cross from Jordan with their delegations, were thus barred from entering the country to attend the meet, a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Jerusalem said. The meeting was called off after the ministers were denied entry.
Indonesia had last month formally presented the move to open a West Bank consulate as a demonstration of its support for Palestinian independence. “I have always voiced the need for Middle Eastern countries to unite and support the struggle of Palestine,” Marzuki Alie, the Speaker of Indonesia’s House of Representatives said in early July, discussing the new consulate at the opening of an “International Conference for the Freedom of Al Quds and Palestine,” in West Java. Noting that the new consulate would be located in the Israeli-held West Bank, he added, “The presence of the consulate there should not be taken to signify that we recognize Israel’s occupation of Ramallah.”
In fact, however, while the ambassador-ranked diplomat was to have been accredited to the Palestinian Authority/PLO, a significant portion of his work would have been in dealings with Israel, and the office was to fulfill substantial diplomatic duties as well as consular responsibilities, a source involved in the sensitive contacts on the issue told The Times of Israel.
Israel and Indonesia quietly maintain trade, security and other relations. Israelis can get visas for Bali in Singapore. And many Indonesians come to Israel as pilgrims, he added.
With the planned de facto upgrade, all such relations could have been more smoothly handled, the source said, noting that Jerusalem is only a 10-minute journey from Ramallah for diplomats with the necessary VIP documentation.
Indonesia is home to some 200 million Muslims, who constitute almost 90 percent of the country’s population.