Indonesia’s Response to Hamas Attacks

Commentary by Wayne Forrest

A few days ago Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo said that the Israel-Gaza conflict should be resolved according to United Nations-agreed parameters regarding “Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.” In his first public comments since Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel from the Gaza Strip Jokowi urged both sides to cease fighting and exercise restraint. “Indonesia calls for the war and violence to be stopped immediately to avoid further human casualties and destruction of property because the escalation of the conflict can cause greater humanitarian impact,” Jokowi said in a statement, according to BenarNews. “The root cause of the conflict, which is the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel, must be resolved immediately in accordance with the parameters that have been agreed upon by the U.N.”  Indonesia’s position is not aligned with most Western governments, including the US, which condemned the Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians as “barbarous”, declaring their support for Israel’s right to defend itself. Indonesia – not having diplomatic relations with Israel—does not go that far; it did not condemn the atrocities, nor did it call out Hamas as a terrorist entity holding its own people hostage. Similar to its tepid response to Russia’s attacks on Ukraine, Indonesia’s response lacks moral clarity.

As a majority Muslim state, Indonesia has been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, viewing Israel as a colonizing entity. A recent commentary in the Diplomat stated: “Pro-Palestinian sentiment is widespread in Indonesia and is voiced by Islamic organizations spanning the political spectrum, who have long solicited public donations for Palestinian causes. As a result, significant developments in the far-off conflict are often mirrored on the streets in Jakarta and other large Indonesian cities. To take one recent example, in 2018, thousands of protesters flooded central Jakarta to protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.” More recently, the PDI-P, the party of independence leader Soekarno, its first President, engineered the withdrawal of an invitation for Israeli athletes to compete in the World Cup Under 20 soccer competition. FIFA pulled the competition out of Indonesia which immediately led to a 10 point drop in polls for its Presidential nominee, Ganjar Pranowo. PDI-P justified the move because of remarks Soekarno made on the founding of the state of Israel in 1949 which he viewed as a move of colonial powers. The irony was not lost on many Indonesians who had seen Israeli athletes competing at other events in the country over the years. Noting that the Palestinian representatives in Indonesia had not opposed Israel’s participation in the World Cup event, former Ambassador to the US, Dino Djalal, remarked: “Are we more Palestinian than the Palestinians?”

After so many years, and through so many administrations, the US-Indonesia divergence on the issue of Israel/Palestine is baked in to our relationship and is not a major sticking point. But, that could change as the Hamas attacks are for Israel what the 9/11 attacks were for the US. Many items on the agenda for more positive US-Indonesia engagement such as $20 billion climate change (JETP) funding, a critical minerals agreement, more US investment, could be at risk. Some US hedge funds have already rescinded job offers to candidates who have expressed pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli views. This mentality could spread to where investment capital is placed.

Its way to soon to predict where things will go. Risk analysts will be running innumerable scenarios. At a minimum Indonesia will experience even more upward pressure on the rupiah and the national budget as there could be a rise in oil prices above the benchmark of $78 per barrel. Normal trade flows could be upended by a long or, heaven forbid, an expanded war. Given 2024 is an election year in both countries, there will probably be an increase in anti-American sentiment in Indonesia which could lead to unintended consequences. We in the business community must do all we can with our Indonesian counterparts to prevent disruptions.

Years ago many of us were heartened when President Wahid (“Gus Dur”) began the process of normalizing relations with Israel. We thought Indonesia’s voice would resonate much more in Middle Eastern affairs if it established diplomatic relations. I felt then and still do that the world’s largest Muslim nation, wanting to play a larger role on the world’s stage, should do this. Its democracy should be an example for the Middle East. Too many of Gus Dur’s countrymen didn’t agree with him and he lost his Presidency. Practically speaking, Indonesia’s recognition of Israeli awaits a two state solution. Unfortunately, until then its voice internationally on Middle Eastern affairs will remain muted.

(The views represented are the writer’s own and are not necessarily shared by members of the American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce)