By Alan Simons
OCTOBER 23, 2007 – Although not well publicised at the time, in July 2006 Israel and Indonesia reached an important economic breakthrough following the signing of a trade agreement by the Manufacturers Association of Israel (MAI) and the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI).
The two organisations finalised the agreement during a landmark Indonesian trade mission to Israel last month, headed by ICCI president Mohamad Hidayat.
MAI president Shraga Brosh said Indonesia can be a central market for exporting Israeli goods to South-East Asia. I also see great importance in strengthening economic ties with the world’s largest Muslim country.
Hidayat said he expects the agreement will encourage Israeli investors in Indonesia, particularly in the fields of agriculture and high-tech.
In addition, during 2006, there were rumours that Israel had offered to train the Indonesian military in anti-terrorist techniques and some of Indonesia’s military elite alledgedly said that they were interested in purchasing military equipment from Israel.
Some months later, it was reported in the Israeli press that:
Two Israeli diplomats, in the first official visit to a Muslim country in 5 years, arrived in Indonesia to attend a conference and were greeted with surprising warmth.
All of this gave no pleasure to the Islamists hell bent on continuing their bloody terrorist activities against Israel.
Which now leads me to bring to your attention the article appearing in this Wednesday’s October 24th editorial opinion column of the Jakata Post. For it would seem as if Indonesia, as the largest Muslim country in the world, and democratic at that, now wants to become more pro active in it’s stance relating to the upcoming Annapolis peace conference.
If this is correct, we should all welcome their participation.
Here’s what the paper has to say:
The visit of Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas to Indonesia is obviously part of an ongoing campaign by both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to drum up support as they prepare to revive peace negotiations that broke down eight years ago.
While Abbas is touring a number of Asian countries, Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has dispatched emissaries to other countries on a similar mission. Once they have the necessary international endorsements, Israel and Palestine are ready to resume talks at an international conference planned for Annapolis in the United States next month.
While international endorsements are crucial for the success of this conference, ultimately it is the domestic support in both Israel and Palestine that really counts. It would be wrong for Abbas and Olmert to try to use international support as a substitute for what they lack at home.
Skepticism runs high among Israelis and Palestinians on the ground, not only because both sides are still too far apart on details to expect any major breakthroughs next month, but also because of the lack of political legitimacy of the two leaders among their constituents.
The two sides have come a long way by agreeing on a two-state solution, essentially meaning the two countries coexist peacefully, like respectful neighbors anywhere in the world.
The 1993 Oslo agreement will still be used as the basis of the renewed negotiations. Most countries of the world, including Indonesia, have declared their support for the peace process, explicitly or implicitly stating their readiness to recognize both states.
To stand any chance of success, Abbas and Olmert must come to the peace conference ready to make concessions, definitely much more so than they were back in 2000. The four substantial issues that divide the two sides are border/territory, security, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
Indonesia, if it was to play any role in this renewed peace process, must make sure that it is not simply used by the major players to give ringing endorsements knowing that both the Palestinian and Israeli leaders are standing on shaky political ground.
Give Abbas what he came for here in Indonesia, but we should also tell him that he had better sort out his differences with the Hamas leadership before he heads for Annapolis.
It would be wrong to assume that Abbas can negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians when his own domestic support is waning. Not only has he lost control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas, he is also apparently losing ground in many parts of the West Bank. Hamas, which Israel and Western governments consider a terrorist organization, enjoys widespread support among Palestinians so it simply cannot be ignored in this peace process.
Indonesia and other predominantly Muslim countries are well positioned to help Abbas make peace first with his main adversary at home, Hamas. Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, for example, have brokered talks in the past to help the two main Palestinian factions overcome their differences.
This is where President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono could once again use his good offices to bring Abbas’ Fatah faction and Hamas together. Indonesia should use all the diplomatic leverage at its disposal that comes from being the country with the largest Muslim population, as well as the world’s third largest democracy.
When Yudhoyono reiterates Indonesia’s support for Palestinians to have their own homeland and for justice, it is clear that Indonesia supports Palestine as one entity, not as a divided state.
Indonesia’s support for Abbas and for the upcoming conference must be conditional upon a reconciliation between him and the leadership of the Hamas faction that not only won 2006 parliamentary elections but also still enjoys the most support on the ground.
If there is any lesson learned from the last peace process, it is that failure would be fatal. Violence erupted as soon as the talks broke down in 2000 with the second intifada (uprising). Another failure would not only be devastating to the Palestinian and Israeli people, but it would likely kill the two-state solution once and for all.
As much as the world would love to see peace prevailing in Palestine and Israel as soon as possible, the peace negotiations should not be dictated by the political agendas of U.S. President George W. Bush, Abbas or Olmert (all of who are lame-duck leaders). The timing and the pace of the talks should be dictated by the reality on the ground.
Both Abbas and Olmert must prepare to come to Annapolis not only with the spirit of concession, but also the spirit of consultation with their constituents at home. If they need more time for consultation, they should have it. The road to Annapolis is not only full of obstacles, it is also filled with many detours before we eventually get there.