Indonesia’s Foreign Policy towards Palestine-Israeli Conflict: Solidarity or Pragmatism?

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Indonesia’s commitment to supporting Palestinian independence is influenced by domestic politics and pragmatism, rather than purely religious solidarity. Islamic influence fluctuates based on political dynamics, as seen in different eras. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is often used as a political card, with interests shifting over time.

“Indonesia will always be committed to supporting Palestinian independence,” a statement issued by Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi at the start of Joko Widodo’s 2019 re-election

The Jakarta Post, 2019

The conflict between Palestine and Israel has become an issue of concern to Indonesian foreign policy. Close relations between Indonesia have existed for a long time, especially before Indonesia’s independence in 1945, when Palestine became the first country to recognize Indonesia’s de facto independence. Indonesia’s support for Palestine also manifests in the absence of official relations between Indonesia and Israel (Faizah, 2022). Several explanations explain the reasons behind Indonesia’s commitment, included in the Preamble to the 1945 Constitution, which states that independence is the right of all nations and, therefore, colonialism must be abolished. Furthermore, because of the emphasis on shared identity or solidarity of ‘Muslim brotherhood,’ especially with Indonesia’s status as a Muslim-majority country.

Despite these arguments, I argue that Indonesia’s position and foreign policy have always been influenced and dictated by domestic political dynamics and an orientation based on mere pragmatism. Even though with a percentage of approximately 86% (Indonesian data, 2023), not all Muslims in Indonesia apply Islamic law strictly in the life of the nation and state; some are also secular. The contradiction between the two was evident while forming the basis of the Indonesian state, especially regarding the debate over the first precepts on Pancasila between secular nationalist groups and islamist groups who wanted to form an Islamic state based on the principles of sharia. The priority position on Islamic issues, including the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, also depends on the perceptions of each head of state in different regimes. As was the case during the Soekarno and Soeharto eras — abangan Muslims, Islamic religious groups in Indonesia who were syncretic — which placed Islam in foreign policy calculations and national politics in second place, even though both were Muslims (Sukma, 2003, pp. 5). That confirms that since the beginning of independence, the existence of Islam in Indonesian foreign policy has been nil, even though the majority of the population is Muslim.

That has undoubtedly influenced Indonesia’s attitudes and policies towards issues in the Middle East, which are generally related to the notion of Islam as an identity, including the Palestinian and Israeli questions, which are of concern to most Indonesian people until today. That was proven through President Soeharto’s statement in November 1987, which stated that Indonesia had paid a significant attention to the struggle of the Palestinian people, which was seen as an effort to resist the colonial government and foreign domination (Sukma, 2003, pp. 48). This statement clearly shows that criticism of Israel does not refer to Islam as the main reason.

Not only that, President Abdurrahman Wahid, in his era, insisted on opening direct trade relations with Israel, which was stated to be essential to overcome domestic instability due to the economic crisis and because the ownership of global capital was held mainly by the Jews (Sukma, 2003, pp. 111–112). Apart from that, relations with Israel were also stated to be capable of bringing in investment from the West, obtaining support in the East Timor case, and others while still supporting Palestinian independence under Indonesian principles. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that Islamic influence related to Indonesia’s policies towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict during the Wahid era existed and ultimately thwarted these plans with the rejection of opening relations with Israel by powerful Islamist groups in Indonesia who warned the government that this has the potential to bring great disappointment from the Muslim community.

As for looking at the era of President Joko Widodo’s government, the Palestinian-Israeli issue, with Islamic nuances in it, often becomes a ‘card’ in domestic political contestation. Jokowi’s pragmatism was also seen when during the re-election era in 2019, he seemed very firmly committed to supporting Palestine and criticizing Israel through his statements (The Jakarta Post, 2019). It contradicts his statement in the FIFA 2023 case, “don’t mix sports and political affairs.” (Susilo et al., 2023). This author indicates that there is Israel’s acceptance in Indonesia to gain FIFA’s trust, which it is imagined will make Indonesia the epicenter of football in Asia, as stated by the Indonesian Minister of Sports (CNN Indonesia, 2023).

It can be concluded that the driving force and the main reason for Indonesia’s policies and attitudes towards the Palestine-Israel conflict are not because of Muslim solidarity but are more influenced by domestic political dynamics and pragmatism that arises from changing interests. I also believe that linking the Palestinian conflict with religious issues will reduce the support of the Indonesian people as a whole for Palestinian independence. It goes hand in hand with the fact that secular nationalist parties such as PDI-P and Golkar tend to gain more significant votes than religious-based parties (Sukma, 2003, pp. 95–97) — indicating that most Indonesian society is secular. Pragmatism in Indonesian policy was also evident during the Wahid and Jokowi eras. Domestic factors and pragmatism cannot be separated in viewing Indonesian policies regarding Palestine-Israel, such as Wahid, who wanted to open up trade to overcome the crisis and the East Timor case, and Jokowi, who took advantage of the Palestinian issue when the issue of Islam was hot and then changed his mind on the FIFA case because his interests have already changed. In conclusion, the dynamics in Indonesia’s domestic politics regulate the role and influence of Islam — whether Islam is considered a top priority or not — in Indonesian foreign policy, including in responding to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Dewi Aulia Maharani is the Director of Research and Development ISAFIS, also is currently studying International Relations at the University of Indonesia. Her passion for international issues, politics, foreign policy, diplomacy, macroeconomic issues, social issues, and Indonesia’s public policy, encourages her to delve deeper into her field interests by actively doing several research. For further discussions, please contact her through email at


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