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Since the Abraham Accords were signed in 2020, Indonesia has issued a mixed response. While most Indonesians look at the agreement with disappointment, some people see this as an opportunity for Indonesia to change its foreign policy position by normalizing relations with Israel. A few months after the accords were signed, former President Donald Trump promised Indonesia financial incentives if it normalized ties with Israel. Apparently, the U.S. offer still stands.

Although there are no formal diplomatic relations, contacts between Indonesia and Israel have been established in trade and people-to-people exchanges. The last few months have witnessed contact in relation to security exchanges between Indonesian and Israeli officials, with the most important being a meeting in November 2021. In January, Indonesian health officials also visited Israel to learn how to cope with the pandemic.

While these circumstances have created an impression that Indonesia will follow its Arab counterparts in normalizing ties with Israel, several factors demonstrate otherwise.

The first factor is Indonesia’s constitution. The constitution explicitly states that independence is the right of every nation and that any form of colonialism must be ended. The preamble in the constitution remains unchanged ever since it was signed in 1945.

The second factor is the people of Indonesia, who are predominantly Muslim and hold pro-Palestinian views.

In addition, there is also the potential to inflame radical Islamist sentiment within militant groups, if they see actions as undermining Islamic teachings.

The extent to which Indonesian politics and foreign policy can be influenced by civil society organizations and the wider public 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 the then governor of Jakarta, 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 make strenuous attempts to befriend Muslim figures ahead of the 2019 presidential election.

Related to this is electoral politics. The issue of normalization with Israel is not viable for whoever is in power.

It will be difficult for the Indonesian government to persuade the Indonesian public that normalization will facilitate mediation between Israelis and Palestinians. Since normalization first occurred between Egypt and Israel in 1979, the Palestinian issue has been left largely unresolved.

Lastly, at the global level, Indonesia has maintained its image as a well-respected member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). In 2017, Indonesia urged OIC members to “reconsider” their relationship with Israel to further support Palestinian attempts to gain independence. Several OIC members have normalized relations with Israel, a move heavily criticized as a betrayal of the creed of solidarity with Palestine. In May 2021, Indonesia also led an OIC condemnation against Israeli attacks taking place in the Gaza Strip.

Beyond the OIC, Indonesia has used other multilateral avenues to support the Palestinian cause, including ASEAN and the United Nations.

It appears to be incredibly difficult that Indonesia would establish formal ties with Israel. Moreover, the Indonesian government appears to understand that it has more to lose 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.