Washington wants Indonesia normalize relations with Israel


Indonesia was one of the countries the Trump administration tried to bring into the Abraham Accords, but the negotiations had not matured by the time Donald Trump’s term ended. At that time, the Indonesians requested an upgraded trade deal with the US in return for taking steps toward normalization, like opening direct flights and issuing visas to Israelis, according to former Trump administration officials. It is anticipated, should Donald Trump get re-elected in 2020, he would not only succeed in getting relations between Jakarta and Jerusalem normalized, by now, few more Muslim countries would have followed the suite.

But now, it seems, the rock has started moving as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has discussed the possibility of Indonesia, largest Muslim country normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel in meetings with officials in Jakarta although Israeli officials stressed that no such step is imminent.

Although Indonesia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, it is a major market for Israeli companies. Bangladesh is the only Muslim country in the world that does not allow any trade or other types of interactions with the Jewish State although months ago authorities had removed “except Israel” words from its passport. Earlier, Bangladeshi passports said: “Valid for all countries of the world except Israel”. As “Except Israel” words were removed from the passport, Palestinian envoy in Dhaka, Yousuf S Ramadan had violently reacted to it even though Palestinians had opposed to Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971.

It may be mentioned here that, Israel was one of the first countries to recognize the newly-born Bangladesh. It actively aided Bangladeshis during the 1971 liberation war, and even supplied arms and logistics to the Bangladeshi freedom fighters through India. Meanwhile, Palestinians, particularly Yasser Arafat, termed Bangladeshi freedom fighters as terrorists, and supported Pakistan owing to the warm relation between those two countries. The Palestinians termed the 1971 war as another Israel-Palestine conflict. However, after the victory of Bangladesh in the 1971 war, the then-Foreign Minister Mushtaque Ahmed, who later became one of the masterminds of the assassination of Bangladesh’s father of nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, declined Israel’s recognition and denied reciprocating. Instead, they supported the Palestinians, despite the Palestinians declining any sort of Bangladeshi help, following Bangladesh’s liberation as the Palestinians did not recognize our country. The passports that were issued following independence barred our citizens from traveling to Israel, Taiwan and South Africa. However, the ban on South Africa and Taiwan were subsequently removed eventually, and the travel bans were lifted, too. Recently, the government has also removed the words ‘except Israel’ from our passports, which is a positive sign.

According to media reports, the Biden administration is trying to build on the Trump-era Abraham Accords, and in this case, looking beyond the Middle East to the largest of the countries that don’t recognize Israel.

“We are always exploring additional opportunities for normalization, but we’ll leave those discussions behind closed doors until the right moment”, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told Axios.

Despite the lack of diplomatic recognition, senior Indonesian and Israeli officials have met quietly several times in the past two decades, mainly on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

According to Israeli officials, the US and Israeli officials have been discussing ways to expand the Abraham Accords in recent months, and Indonesia has come up in that context.

A senior US official told Axios, the Biden administration was working “quietly but quite assiduously” to expand the accords, though it may take time.

Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata met Indonesian Minister of Defense Prabowo Subianto at a conference in Bahrain last November. They sat together during the opening dinner of the conference and later exchanged business cards. After Prabowo was photographed at the conference speaking to an Israeli diplomat, he issued a statement saying that speaking to Israeli officials is not prohibited when it serves the national interest.

In my opinion, national interest should always be prioritized by every leader in the world – including the leaders of the Muslim world. For Bangladesh, normalizing relations with Israel is important. But our policymakers now can allow citizen in traveling to Israel and begin private-level communications for trade and assistance in technology. At the same time, Bangladesh can immensely benefit from Israel’s vast experience in combating religious extremism and political Islam, including radical Islamic terrorism. As world’s largest Muslim nation Indonesia has already business relations with Israeli companies, it is high time for Bangladesh to follow the suite.


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