Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said Wednesday that Israel and Indonesia are engaged in secret diplomatic relations, revealing that a senior Israeli official had recently traveled to the Muslim-majority country in an attempt to arrange Indonesia’s foreign minister’s visit to the region and avert a public spat.
Earlier this week, Palestinian officials said Israel blocked the Indonesian foreign minister from entering the West Bank because she did not plan to visit Jerusalem. Addressing the issue on Wednesday, Hotovely confirmed that Jerusalem had prevented her entry, saying the Indonesian top diplomat had refused to meet with Israeli officials.
“Even though there are no formal ties, there are ongoing contacts between us and Indonesia on a range of issues,” Hotovely told the Knesset plenum in response to a question about the reported debacle.
In lieu of a meeting between Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas slated to take place in Ramallah on Sunday, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki traveled to Jordan to meet with Mardusi.
“There have been secret contacts with Indonesia, with which we don’t have diplomatic relations, and there were understandings that were rudely broken and so we blocked her entry,” Hotoveli said. “This was a breach of diplomatic protocol, and the most honorable thing to do is to respect the protocols, so when you break them don’t be surprised that you bar yourself from visiting the [Palestinian Authority].”
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, has no official diplomatic ties with Jerusalem and Marsudi would have been the first Indonesian government minister to visit Israel.
The main purpose of Marsudi’s planned visit to the West Bank was to inaugurate an honorary consulate and welcome its consul, who has been appointed by Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the Indonesian Jakarta Post reported.
In the past, Israel has allowed foreign diplomats to visit Palestinian officials without also meeting with Israelis, which makes this case a change in the established protocol.
Hotovely said that the head of Foreign Ministry’s Asia Division, Mark Sofer, traveled to Indonesia last week in an attempt to reach an understanding over the visit and avoid a public row.
“Despite the fact Indonesia does not engage in official diplomatic relations with Israel, we have much respect for the Indonesian people and its leaders,” she said.
The decision to block Marsudi’s entrance to Ramallah comes less than a week after Indonesia held the 5th Extraordinary Organization of Islamic Cooperation Summit on Palestine and Al-Quds Al-Sharif, which discussed the possibility of boycotting Israeli products made in the West Bank.
Approximately 75 percent of Indonesians hold a negative view of Israel, according to a 2014 BBC poll.
Despite the dearth of diplomatic ties, Indonesia and Israel have signed a number of trade agreements aimed at encouraging the flow of goods between the two countries.
Indonesia exported over $100 million (NIS 387 million) worth of goods to Israel in 2015 and imported nearly $80 million (NIS 310 million) in goods from Israel, according to the Jakarta Post.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.