Indonesia is to open a consulate in Ramallah, headed by a diplomat with the rank of ambassador, who will also unofficially serve as his country’s point man for contacts with Israel, The Times of Israel learned on Friday.
The move represents 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, a source who was involved in the process said. He said Australian politicians, from more than one party, were also “in the picture” as the deliberations continued.
Indonesia has 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 on Wednesday, 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 will 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 will be accredited to the Palestinian Authority/PLO, a significant portion of his work will be in dealings with Israel, and the office will fulfill substantial diplomatic duties as well as consular responsibilities, the source said.
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 de facto upgrade, all such relations will be 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 and Israel maintain no formal diplomatic relations. In 1993, however, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin met then-Indonesian president Suharto at his Jakarta home. And foreign minister Silvan Shalom met his Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirayuda at a UN summit in New York in 2005.
Indonesia is home to some 200 million Muslims, who constitute almost 90 percent of the country’s population.