Update (11:05 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015): Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Rizal Ramli has denied the reports that Indonesia wants to give Israeli tourists visa-free access
Jakarta. The Indonesian government plans to include Israel in its list of countries whose citizens are allowed visa-free visits for tourism purposes, local media reported on Monday, despite the fact that Jakarta does not officially recognize the Jewish state.
Rizal Ramli, the country's coordinating minister for maritime affairs, announced on Monday that 84 countries would be added to the 47 countries already being granted such privileges, but a statement on his ministry's website did not provide a complete list.
Various Indonesian news outlets, however, published names of countries they said were mentioned by Rizal, including Israel — with which Indonesia has no diplomatic relations.
Australia, which had so far been left out of the visa-free list, would also be included.
The Jakarta Globe on Monday night was not able to independently verify which countries made up the list of 84, which would still have to be signed into force by President Joko Widodo.
Republika, a major media outlet catering to a largely mainstream Muslim readership, was quick to pick up on the news, quoting an official from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) as saying that a recognition of ties with Israel in the form of a visa-free arrangement would be unconstitutional as long as the Jewish state does not recognize an independent Palestine.
Palestinian independence has long been a key aim of Indonesian foreign policy, with the issue playing a prominent role at the high-profile commemorative Asia-Africa Conference held in Bandung earlier this year.
The president himself has repeatedly called for an independent Palestine, but on the campaign trail in June 2014 now-Vice President Jusuf Kalla also indicated that the pair would try to open an Indonesian embassy in the West Bank city of Ramallah if elected and work toward closer ties with Israel.
Kalla is known for having played a pivotal in role the peace agreement signed in 2005 between the separatist Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government, and said he wanted to help resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
"We can’t be a mediator if we don’t know Israel," Kalla said at the time. "We must be close with both Israel and Palestine."
Indonesia's visa-free policy is meant to boost tourism numbers, as Tourism Minister Arief Yahya has set an ambitious target of attracting 20 million foreign visitors per year by 2020, which would be twice the current number.
The plan to grant visa-free entry to Australian tourists — which unlike Israel was explicitly mentioned in the ministry statement — came as Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi was in Sydney together with Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu to meet their counterparts and senior Australian law enforcement officials were visiting Jakarta.
Australian tourists make up a large portion of foreign visitors to Indonesia, especially the popular resort island Bali, but relations between the neighbors had been strained in recent years due to a spying row, disagreement on asylum seeker policies and the execution of two Australian drug convicts in Indonesia.