Indonesian President Joko Widodo said yesterday that the Israel-Gaza conflict should be resolved according to United Nations-agreed parameters regarding “Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.” In his first public comments since Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel from the Gaza Strip over the weekend, prompting a ruthless Israeli response, Jokowi, as he is known, urged both sides to cease fighting and exercise restraint.
“Indonesia calls for the war and violence to be stopped immediately to avoid further human casualties and destruction of property because the escalation of the conflict can cause greater humanitarian impact,” Jokowi said in a statement, according to BenarNews. “The root cause of the conflict, which is the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel, must be resolved immediately in accordance with the parameters that have been agreed upon by the U.N.”
The war, which has claimed at least 1,900 lives on both sides, according to The Associated Press, is expected to escalate in the days and weeks to come, as Israel retaliates against the incursion by Hamas militants, who killed hundreds of Israeli civilians in towns close to the border with Gaza in raids beginning on Saturday.
Jokowi reiterates the earlier comments made by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which stated that “the root of the conflict, namely the occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel, must be resolved, in accordance with the parameters agreed upon by the U.N.”
Despite voicing its support for the U.N.’s position on a resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said similarly that the past week’s violence is a product of “a long-standing conflict, with a 56-year-long occupation and no political end in sight” – it is out of step with the majority of Western governments, which have condemned Hamas’ attacks on Israeli civilians and expressed their support for Israel’s right to retaliate against the brazen cross-border assault.
The stance of Jokowi’s administration is not surprising. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority state, has long been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause and does not maintain diplomatic ties with Israel (although the two nations do maintain low-profile ties in the areas of trade, security, and tourism.)
Pro-Palestinian sentiment is widespread in Indonesia, and is voiced by Islamic organizations spanning the political spectrum, who have long solicited public donations for Palestinian causes. As a result, significant developments in the far-off conflict are often mirrored on the streets in Jakarta and other large Indonesian cities. To take one recent example, in 2018, thousands of protesters flooded central Jakarta to protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The Indonesian government’s stance obviously reflects the fact that the Palestinian cause resonates with powerful conservative domestic constituencies in a way that other issues involving Muslims – the plight of the Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region leaps to mind – do not. It also to some extent flows from the country’s own tradition of anti-colonial struggle, which many connect to the Palestinian cause. As the Indonesian Ulema Council, the nation’s highest clerical body, stated in late 2020, Indonesia “must remain consistent in its identity as a nation that rejects colonizers.”
When fighting last took place between Hamas and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in May of 2021, Indonesia’s government came together with Brunei and Malaysia to issue a joint statement condemning Israel’s air attacks on Gaza and denouncing its “inhumane, colonial, and apartheid” policy toward the Palestinian people.
As the IDF gears up for a punitive assault on the Gaza Strip, there is the possibility that the Indonesia’s stance could color its relations with Western nations, including the United States. The Israel-Palestine conflict, and the U.S. role in the Middle East more broadly, have long been one of the main sources of negative public sentiment towards the U.S. in Muslim-majority Southeast Asia, something that can be expected to intensify as the IDF moves into Gaza.
While this disjuncture is well understood in both Jakarta and Washington and is unlikely significantly to impede the bilateral relationship, the strong connection to Indonesian public sentiment, especially with a presidential election on the horizon, injects a degree of unpredictability into the relationship at a time of high tension in the Middle East. Whatever the immediate developments in Gaza, the Israel-Palestine issue will remain one of the issues on which Indonesia and its Western partners are perennially divided.