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Since the Abraham Accords were signed in 2020, various positive responses have emerged from Indonesia. Some people see this as momentum for Indonesia to change its foreign policy stance by establishing official diplomatic relations with Israel. In 2020, Donald Trump, the former U.S. president, promised Indonesia financial incentives to establish formal relations with Israel. The U.S. offer to Indonesia has continued to this day.

Although there are no formal diplomatic relations, contacts between Indonesia and Israel have been established in other respects, especially in trade and people-to-people exchanges. The Jerusalem Post reports that contacts between Indonesia and Israel of religious leaders, policymakers, athletes, journalists, and students have been mutually exclusive over the past decade. Economic activities have also increased.

The last few months have also seen contacts between Indonesian and Israeli defense officials, such as a meeting in November 2021. Then in January, Indonesian health officials visited Israel to learn how to cope with the pandemic.

There is an impression that Indonesia will establish more intensive relations with Israel or even normalize relations. However, this seems unlikely.

The first factor is the country’s constitution. The 1945 constitution explicitly states that independence is the right of every nation, and any form of colonialism must be ended. This principle is often conveyed by the government when responding to the issue of Israel and Palestine. It proposes that Palestinian independence is the main thing before normalization talks with Israel begin. If Indonesia decides to normalize ties with Israel, its legitimacy may be questioned, and it may receive backlash from the people.

Another factor that has the greatest potential in preventing intensive cooperation between the two countries is the public in Indonesia, which is predominantly Muslim and tends to hold anti-Israeli views.

Indonesia also has strong civic groups with Islamic backgrounds such as NU and Muhammadiyah, as well as other groups that are members of the Indonesian Ulema Council. Meanwhile, Arab countries are politically authoritarian, and freedom of speech is highly repressed in those countries.

Efforts to persuade the Indonesian public that normalization will facilitate conflict mediation also seems difficult for the public to accept. Since normalization first occurred between Egypt and Israel in 1979, and now the Abraham Accords in 2020, the Palestinian issue has been left largely unresolved.

The magnitude of the public’s influence in politics in Indonesia will be an important consideration before Indonesia considers formalizing relations with Israel. This is evidenced by the actions of Muslims that occurred in 2016 regarding the issue of blasphemy by Jakarta’s governor, which provoked the emergence of the “212” movement. Since 2016, the rise of political Islam forced President Joko Widodo to choose Ma’ruf Amin, a Muslim scholar, as his vice-president and take an intensive approach to Muslim figures ahead of the 2019 presidential election.

In the context of electoral politics, the issue of normalization with Israel is not viable for the Widodo government. When the U.S. approaches Indonesia and raises the issue of normalization, it can be considered as part of efforts in stemming China’s influence in Indonesia. Even now, economically, Indonesia prefers close relations with China, which is seen as bringing more benefits to the Indonesian economy.

In addition, the PDIP Party and other major parties will consider cooperation with Israel to be a nonstarter amid the strong current of identity politics in Indonesia in recent years.

Looking at the domestic structure of politics, religious identity, and the economy, Indonesia will not establish formal ties with Israel. The government will lose more if it does.

Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat is a journalist and academician from Indonesia. He is currently a lecturer at Universitas Islam Indonesia and a research associate at Jakarta-based Institute for Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF). Muhammad holds a B.A. in International Affairs from Qatar University, as well as an M.A. and Ph.D in Politics from the University of Manchester in the UK. As an academic, his research focuses on China/Indonesia-Middle East relations. Meanwhile, as a journalist, he works on Indonesian politics and disability issues.

Dr. Hasbi Aswar is an assistant professor at the Department of International Relations with research interests in Islamic politics, social movements and Islam in International Relations.