Navigating The Waters: Prospects For Improved Indonesia-Israel Relations – OpEd


Indonesia and Israel do not enjoy diplomatic relations. However, as the Biden administration continues to work toward expanding the Abraham Accord and normalizing diplomatic relations between Israel and Muslim countries, the question ‘of whether a diplomatic breakthrough between Indonesia and Israel is possible’ lingers on (Ng). 

Since Indonesia’s independence, the founding President Sukarno adopted a strong pro-Arab policy towards Israel and stood for the Palestinian cause (Barten and Rubenstein 157). Over the years however, there have been several attempts at diplomatic reconciliation between Indonesia and Israel; put forward, for the very first time, by President Abdurrahman Wahid in 1999 during the Indonesian Reformation era. After his removal from office in 2001, the normalization of relations with Israel went off the political table (Barten and Rubenstein 158). 

There are two major factors behind Indonesia’s resistance to establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. First, Indonesia sees Israel’s actions in the occupied Palestinian territories as overarching imperialism and colonialism. As Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution strongly rejects colonialism, Israel’s attempts at reconciliation with Muslim-majority countries are only viewed as its intent to break the powerful Muslim bloc supporting a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Strangio). 

Second, the Indonesian political base rests on Muslim groups and religious mass organizations, such as Nahdlatul Ulama, Muhammadiyah, and the Indonesian Ulama Council, which have repeatedly rejected Israel’s bid to establish diplomatic relations with Indonesia. A key reason behind President Sukarno adopting a pro-Arab stance towards Israel was to avoid trouble with the domestic Islamist elements and to preserve political stability at home (Barten and Rubenstein 159). According to Indonesian Muslim groups, diplomatic relations with Israel not only undermine the country’s constitution but also weaken the Palestinian cause, the support for which is already dwindling due to the Abraham Accords (Ng). 

Responding to this matter, Israel’s ambassador to Singapore Sagi Karni asserted that the leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei, the three significant Muslim-majority countries in Southeast Asia, do not understand the true nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He further stressed that Israel’s conflict is not with the Palestinian people but with Hamas (Idrus). 

According to Sudarnoto Abdul Hakim, leader of the Indonesian Ulama Council (IUC), the statement of the Israeli ambassador is nothing more than “an attempt to localize the Palestinian issue, as if the problem was only an issue of relations between Israel and Hamas, when in fact they continued to occupy the Palestinians” (Idrus). He further stated, “The main issue is Israeli occupation and imperialism. It’s not a conflict between Hamas and Israel” Therefore, the IUC is to remain steadfast in its stance against Israel and in defending Palestine (Idrus). 

It is due to the very resistance of Indonesian Muslim groups that the government’s move to open a consulate in Ramallah, in the Israeli-held West Bank, in 2012 did not materialize (Adams). As these organizations form the “moderate Islam” support base for the current Jokowi administration, any action taken toward forging diplomatic ties with Israel will surely be met with huge resistance. As it also might spark a radical sentiment within militant factions, the resistance might take a violent form – something that the Indonesian government does not see as worth establishing diplomatic relations with Israel (Ryvantya). 

As evident as it is from recent events, Indonesia gave up its hosting rights of the FIFA U-20 World Cup due to its opposition to Israel’s participation and refusal to allow the Israeli team to play in Bali and Central Java (Dunbar). Despite President Joko Widodo’s emphasis that Israel’s participation in the U-20 World Cup does not imply any change in foreign policy and that sports and politics should be kept separate, several protests broke out in Indonesia (Teresia and Widianto). Thus, Indonesia continues to stress its support for Palestine and the two-state solution as the only condition for diplomatic relations with Israel.

On the contrary, however, many analysts stress that there is nothing unconstitutional about forging diplomatic relations with Israel. The 1945 Constitution also emphasizes peace diplomacy and playing a mediator role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a role that Indonesia has been playing exceptionally well, it is important to reach out to all concerned parties. To bring Israel to the negotiating table, formal diplomatic relations reflect a significant breakthrough (Balachandran). So, if Indonesia wishes to support the Palestinian cause in a meaningful manner, a diplomatic breakthrough should be a possibility. 

Moreover, to advance its global opportunities so that Indonesia never misses a chance like hosting the FIFA U-20 World Cup, expanding its indirect trade, security, and tourism relations with Israel into formal diplomatic relations is advantageous. Moreover, it will also help Indonesia cash out on economic opportunities. For instance, Israel’s trade with the UAE, Qatar, Sudan, and Morocco exceeded $2.8 billion last year while currently, Indonesia-Israel annual trade amounts to $500 million a year (Balachandran; Ng). So, opening diplomatic relations with Israel can help Indonesia maximize economic incentives and expand global influence but first, it needs to tackle domestic challenges.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.


  • Adams, Kayla J. “Indonesia to informally upgrade its relations with Israel via ambassador-ranked diplomat in Ramallah.” The Times of Israel, 6 July 2012, Accessed 8 May 2023.
  • Balachandran, Niruban. “Why Indonesia should open diplomatic relations with Israel.” Asia News Networks, 5 Apr. 2023, Accessed 8 May 2023.
  • Barton, Greg, and Colin Rubenstein. “INDONESIA AND ISRAEL: A RELATIONSHIP IN WAITING.” Jewish Political Studies Review, vol. 17, no. 1/2, 2005, pp. 157–70. JSTOR, Accessed 8 May 2023.
  • Dunbar, Graham. “Indonesia stripped of hosting Under-20 World Cup by FIFA.” AP News, 30 Mar. 2023, Accessed 8 May 2023.
  • Idrus, Pizaro G. “Muslim groups reject Israel’s bid to forge ties with Indonesia.” Anadolu Agency, 23 June 2021, Accessed 8 May 2023.
  • Ng, Jefferson. “Indonesia-Israel Relations: Is a Breakthrough Imminent?” The Diplomat, 31 Jan. 2022, Accessed 8 May 2023.
  • Ryvantya, Kenzie. “The Dilemma of Opening Indonesia-Israel Diplomatic Relations.” Modern Diplomacy, 26 Oct. 2022, modern diplomacy. EU/2022/10/26/the-dilemma-of-opening-indonesia-israel-diplomatic-relations/. Accessed 8 May 2023.
  • Strangio, Sebastian. “Why Indonesia Won’t Recognize Israel — At Least For Now.” The Diplomat, 14 Jan. 2021, Accessed 8 May 2023.
  • Teresia, Ananda, and Stanley Widianto. “Indonesia president says no foreign policy change in hosting Israel for U-20 World Cup.” Reuters, 28 Mar. 2023, Accessed 8 May 2023.

Simon Hutagalung

Simon Hutagalung is a retired diplomat from the Indonesian Foreign Ministry and received his master's degree in political science and comparative politics from the City University of New York. The opinions expressed in his articles are his own.

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