By Ronna Nirmala and Noah Lee
Officials in Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh said Wednesday their countries had no intention of establishing diplomatic ties with Israel, after media reports quoting Israeli sources said that an Asian Muslim country would be among the next nations to normalize relations with the Jewish state.
The three Muslim-majority nations said they stood firm on their demand for Palestinian statehood as a precondition for opening relations with Israel, even after some other Muslim countries had agreed earlier this year to normalize such ties.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, doesn’t plan to develop ties with Israel, according to a spokesman for the foreign ministry.
“The Foreign Minister has said that up to this day there is no intention by Indonesia to establish diplomatic relations with Israel,” spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told BenarNews on Wednesday.
In neighboring Malaysia, Deputy Foreign Minister Kamarudin Jaffar also denied that Kuala Lumpur was planning to start a diplomatic relationship with Israel.
“[T]hese developments will not shake the strong stand and principle of the Malaysian government, which has always supported the formation of a sovereign state of Palestine through a two-state solution,” Kamarudin told a session of the upper house of Parliament on Wednesday.
“[I] would like to stress in this house that the strong stand of Malaysia on the issue of Palestine would not be changed so as to achieve a solution that is fair and permanent, especially through discussion among stakeholders, based on international laws and relevant United Nations resolutions.”
Kamarudin was responding to a senator’s question on whether Kuala Lumpur would follow Islamic nations Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates in initiating diplomatic ties with Israel.
Bangladesh, too, has no plan to reverse its stand that it won’t recognize Israel unless a Palestine nation is established, an unnamed foreign ministry official told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday.
“Our position remains the same,” the official said.
An Israeli cabinet minister, meanwhile, said that his country was working toward forging relationships with a fifth Muslim country, during U.S. President Donald Trump’s term, Reuters reported.
There are two new candidate nations who may soon establish diplomatic ties with Israel, Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis told a local TV station, according to Reuters.
One of these candidates is a Persian Gulf state and the other lies farther to the east – a “Muslim country that is not small” and is not Pakistan – Akunis said.
“I believe … there will be an American announcement about another country that is going public with the normalization of relations with Israel and, in essence, with the infrastructure for an accord – a peace accord,” the Israeli minister said.
Widodo telephones Palestine’s Abbas
Earlier this month, The Jerusalem Post cited an unnamed Israeli diplomatic source as saying that talks about Indonesia-Israel relations were at an “advanced” stage and could be announced soon.
Responding to the report, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi also said last week that Indonesia had “no intention to open diplomatic relations with Israel.”
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had a telephone conversation with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last week, Bey Machmuddin, a press aide to Jokowi’s office, confirmed to BenarNews.
Bey declined to disclose details about the conversation, but the middleeastmonitor.com news site reported that Jokowi had reaffirmed to Abbas Indonesia’s support for Palestinian statehood.
Meanwhile, foreign ministry spokesman Faizasyah declined to say whether a U.S. government agency that invests overseas was talking with Jakarta about doubling its $1 billion investment in Indonesia if the Southeast Asian country agreed to develop ties with Israel, as Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday.
Faizasyah told BenarNews he was aware of the report but saw no need to respond to it specifically because Indonesia was not establishing ties with Israel any time soon.
“Therefore, there is no urgency to respond to such reports or statements,” Faizasyah said.
The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) could increase its Indonesian portfolio by as much as $2 billion if it recognizes Israel, Adam Boehler, chief executive of DFC told Bloomberg in an interview.
“We’re talking to them about it,” Boehler said, according to Bloomberg.
“If they’re ready, they’re ready and if they are, then we’ll be happy to even support more financially than what we do,” Boehler told Bloomberg.
According to an Indonesian analyst, Indonesia should reject any such proposal because opening any ties with Israel could result in a public backlash.
“Indonesia is capable of obtaining other sources of financing,” Teuku Rezasyah, an international relations expert at Padjajaran University in Bandung, told BenarNews.
“As a predominantly Muslim country, the word ‘Israel’ is very sensitive at a time when the Jokowi administration is grappling with the pandemic and corruption problems.”
Boehler, who visited Indonesia in January, came here on a second visit in October, and met with Luhut Pandjaitan, the minister who deals with investments in Indonesia.
Officials at the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs and Investment and the U.S. embassy could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.