After US official raised issue, Likud minister hints Indonesia may agree to ties

Ofir Akunis says two states are seen as the favorites to next establish relations with Israel, won’t name them, but notes one is a ‘Muslim country that isn’t small’

Likud Minister Ofir Akunis in Jerusalem on May 28, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud Minister Ofir Akunis in Jerusalem on May 28, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud said Wednesday that Israel was pushing to normalize relations with another Muslim country before US President Donald Trump leaves office next month.

Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis said two countries were considered the favorites to soon reach a rapprochement with Israel, but refused to name them.

“It will be an interesting country,” he told the Ynet news site.

Akunis said one of the country’s was in the Gulf and could be Oman, but wasn’t Saudi Arabia. Oman, which has praised the US-brokered normalization deals and hosted Netanyahu for a visit in 2018, has been rumored in recent months to be among the next Arab states that could establish formal ties with Israel.

He described the other as a “Muslim country that isn’t small” — signaling it was not Arab — but said it wasn’t Pakistan.

Asked if it was Indonesia, Akunis didn’t answer directly, but did not rule it out.

Protesters shout “God is Great” during a rally against the US plan to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, at Monas, the national monument, in Jakarta, Indonesia, on May 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

Among large Muslim countries, Indonesia’s president said last week that there would be no normalization with Israel until a Palestinian state has established. Malaysia has indicated it holds a similar position, while a official at the Bangladeshi foreign ministry told Reuters the country has no interest in establishing relations with Israel.

Akunis’s comments came after a senior Trump administration official said Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, could receive up to $2 billion in US development aid if it recognizes Israel.

In this photo released by the Indonesian Presidential Palace, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, right, talks with US.Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during their meeting at Bogor Presidential Palace in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. (Indonesian Presidential Palace via AP)

Adam Boehler, the CEO of the US International Development Finance Corp., told Bloomberg in an interview published Tuesday that Indonesia could get $1 billion to $2 billion more in development aid if it joins the rush being organized by the Trump administration in its final days to have Arab and Muslim countries openly recognize Israel.

In an effort led by senior White House adviser Jared Kushner — US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a longtime friend of Boehler — the administration is pushing normalization agreements between Israel and Arab and Muslim states as the president nears the end of his term.

Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have signed agreements, Morocco hosted a US-Israel delegation Tuesday to sign agreements, and Sudan has agreed to a deal.

There are also hopes that Oman and Saudi Arabia could also agree to normalize ties, however, Boehler told Bloomberg that his organization could not supply them with funding because the DFC isn’t allowed to invest directly in higher-income states.

US President Donald Trump listens as Adam Boehler, CEO of U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, April 14, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A congressional aide with ties to the Democratic leadership told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Indonesians should be wary of the proposal weeks ahead of the January 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

“If I were the Indonesians, I wouldn’t bank on any promises the administration is making now,” said the aide, who asked not to be named to speak frankly. “The Development Finance Corp. was designed as a development tool, not an incentive for political developments.”

Biden has welcomed the previous agreements, but Democrats have criticized their transactional nature. The UAE is getting stealth fighter jets, Morocco is getting recognition of its occupation of Western Sahara and Sudan is being removed from the US list of stats that back terrorists.

It’s not clear whether Biden will abide by any of these agreements.

Boehler said he believed the Biden administration would support the moves.

“I think they will take what we did and take it further, and I hope they do and I’ll be there to support them,” he said.

JTA contributed to this report.

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