Mark Garten

Indonesia’s Position in the UN Security Council and the Palestinian Issue

Becoming a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in early June could be considered a starting point for Indonesia’s playing a more important role in Palestinian independence.

Palestinian independence is a complex issue, involving the interests of not only regional but also global forces, namely the U.S. and Russia, who have made it a “securitized” issue.

Their concern is related to the duties and responsibilities of the UN Security Council in securing a resolution that has so far not been implemented with regard to Palestine The issue for Indonesia is how it can take steps to support Palestinian independence as one of the UN Security Council’s non-permanent members.

The U.S. and Russia have long competed in international politics. This is evident in the dynamics of the global strategic environment in recent years, such as the issue of the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and Russian military intervention in Syria. In Europe, the Crimean annexation by Russia is considered a threat to the regional security’s architecture. This is because the Crimea is a strategically valuable area that gives Russia full access to the Black Sea.

In the Middle East, the U.S. and Russia have various strongholds in competing regional zones, namely anti-Iran (Saudi Arabia-Israel), Muslim Brotherhood (Turkey-Qatar) and anti-Israel (Iran-Syria). Regional power competitions involving the U.S. and Russian sides can also be seen in Syria. This situation creates a complex pattern of interactions that impact the architecture of both Europe and the Middle East.

Competing interests

Various parties recently tried to resolve this complexity through the U.S.-Russia summit in Helsinki on 16th of July. The meeting discussed both U.S. and Russian interests in Ukraine and Syria. For the U.S., the meeting was an effort to improve relations with Russia and to bargain for U.S. interests in Europe and the Middle East; while for Russia, this summit was a strategy to improve the Russian-U.S. relationship to ease sanctions placed upon Russia.

The U.S. agenda in Europe is to secure its allies from potential Russian threats. In the Middle East, the U.S. priority is to secure its strategic allies (Israel-Saudi Arabia) and to ensure their combined power can be used as a deterrent against Iran.

The United States and the anti-Iran camp share the same view of the potential threat of Iran and its proximity through the ‘foothold’ in Syria. If the summit had reached a deal on Syria, Russia will be able to influence Syria’s policy of banning the presence of pro-Iran militias in the southern Syria region bordering Israel.

The weakening of Syria will bring benefits to Israel’s security because for a long time Syria was an ‘opponent’ and became a close ally of Iran in the region. Syria provides support for Palestinian movements, such as Hamas and Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, which are on the list of forbidden organizations.

Unfortunately, this U.S.-Russian meeting was considered to be a unilateral U.S. move to ‘abandon’ its allies. Since Donald Trump has become president, U.S. policy is dominated with unilateral steps already seen in some decisions that have been made.

First, the U.S. has withdrawn from Iran’s nuclear deal, leaving its European allies involved in the deal. This unilateral stance has the potential to undermine the confidence of its allies in Europe and raise questions about the commitment of the U.S. to face the potential threat of Russia in Europe. Secondly, the United States intervened militarily in Syria by launching air strikes against the Syrian government-owned facilities without consulting with international organizations and countries within its coalition. Third, the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was implemented as part of the U.S. peace plan in the Middle East region without consulting the United Nations.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that the Palestinian internal camps (Hamas and Fatah) are fighting each other over the management of the Gaza Strip, which is currently under siege by Israeli soldiers. Despite the increasing complexity of the Palestinian situation, this issue is no longer a top priority for the Gulf countries. However, if this results in outside intervention and exploitation of the situation, this will make the two-state solution less clear.

Pragmatic interests

Morally and politically, all sides in the Middle East support the idea of a Palestinian state. However, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region do not want to damage relations with the U.S. and Israel. In the session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation States (OIC) only 16 of the 54 member states gathered to oppose the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. This is due to improved relations between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan as Israel’s ‘best’ Arab partners. Although both the United States and Russia share a common view of settling the issue of Palestinian independence, the two have opted for a pragmatic approach by collaborating with Israel in addition to providing settlement support with regard to the issue of Palestinian independence.

Based on the above facts, the complex interactions in the region poses a challenge for Indonesia as far as defending its national interests in the Middle East are concerned. The dominance of the unilateralism of regional actors with external actors is based on their respective national interests, which means that the issue of Palestinian independence is no longer a priority for countries in the region. In addition, the weakening of Syria as an ally of Iran in supporting the Palestinians has led to a somewhat difficult Palestinian position.

Indonesia can at least begin to form an idea of what steps can be taken regarding its new position as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Indonesia could mobilize the collective support of the international community to prioritize a solution by way of dialogue instead of the current unilateral approach. Indonesia’s foreign policy tradition of ‘deliberation and dialogue’ will be directed to the issue of Palestinian independence. Indonesia needs to inspire collective mobilization regarding the settlement of the issue of Palestinian independence. Bilaterally, Indonesia could be a key strategic partner for the U.S. and Russia.