In September last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention to annex large areas of the West Bank. The announcement was met with global condemnation since the West Bank is expected by the international community to form the territory of an independent Palestine. Taken together with previous moves by Israel to strengthen its position in Jerusalem and Golan, Netanyahu's gambit was a sure sign that peace in Palestine would not come anytime soon.
Indonesia always takes pride in its political and humanitarian assistance for Palestine. While this has helped ordinary Palestinians immeasurably, Indonesia should look at more options to support Palestinian independence and help promote the peace process in the Middle East.
Promoting peace through grassroots dialogues is one of those options. The Israelis and the Palestinians have been at loggerheads for such a long time – providing a textbook example of an intractable conflict. Not only has it persisted for a long time, but a complex combo of local, regional and global politics has also contributed to making it even harder to resolve.
Giving greater responsibilities to local people to create conditions that are supportive of peace has been suggested as a way out. Middle-level leaders (ethnic or religious leaders, academicians, NGO leaders) should be engaged to spread the message of peace at the top and grassroots levels. As part of this tactic, the local community should be made part of a comprehensive peace strategy.
The United Nations has always encouraged the involvement of youth and women in the peace process. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) in 2017 endorsed the creation of SESAME, a science collaboration involving individual scientists from Israel, Jordan, Pakistan and Palestine to improve people-to-people relations.
Strengthening relations between the Palestinian people and the Israeli people is not a new idea. The Oslo II Agreement had encouraged it in the 1990s. Since then, plenty of dialogues between Palestinians and Israelis have taken place, organized by a range of non-state actors.
It is true that many have questioned the efficacy of these dialogues to promote peace. However, as Israeli peace activist Robi Damelin puts it, a peace process that excludes the ordinary people is an incomplete one. Speaking in Jerusalem in 2013, President Obama also asserted that peace begins in the heart of the people.
Long-Term National Commitment
Indonesia has a wealth of relevant experiences to help improve people-to-people relations between Israel and Palestine: it was involved in the peace process in the southern Philippines and Cambodia, and initiated an interfaith dialogue in Myanmar. It has also attempted to facilitate dialogues between the religious leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan and Taliban leaders.
But yes, facilitating people-to-people dialogues is time- and energy-consuming. Indonesia will have to develop a long-term plan to do it, including securing the necessary funding and forming strategic partnerships.
However, almost all the necessary elements to do it are already in place. A consultation mechanism with Palestine to develop assistance programs has already been set up. Indonesia is part of several networks of countries that provide assistance to Palestine, such as the Conference on Cooperation among East Asian Countries for Palestinian Development (Ceapad).
This regional framework can be utilized to put people-to-people relations at the forefront of the peace process, in contrast to peace processes in the past that were dominated by the United States and involved mainly the elite leaderships of Palestine and Israel.
Reaching out to Israel is a bit tricky since Indonesia and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations. The most feasible solution would be to run programs through networks of non-state actors. There are many of them in Indonesia that can potentially carry out people-to-people programs.
The trickiest part would be managing the sentiments of certain elements of the Indonesian society since the program will likely include the visits of Israeli citizens to Indonesia. Possible public objection, however, can be minimized by providing adequate information as to why Indonesia must convene such a program. The involvement of religious organizations will help avoid unnecessary domestic backlash.
It is high time to educate the Indonesian public about the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Israeli occupation and violence toward Palestinian people is a fact, there is also the fact that there are people from both sides who seek peace.
It is also high time for many Indonesians to learn that a lot of their sentiments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may no longer be valid. Islam is not the only religion in Palestine. The Middle East and the Arab world is changing. For years, several Muslim-dominated countries have established diplomatic relations with Israel. Israeli relations with its Arab neighbors have even warmed up, even if this happens as the consequence of a growing rivalry between Arab countries and Iran.
As the 1945 Constitution mandates, it is Indonesia's duty to oppose colonialism and carry out peace diplomacy. Reaching out to all concerned parties is an absolute necessity in any peace effort. Indonesia's so-called free and active foreign policy dictates that we remain creative in fulfilling that constitutional mandate. Facilitating dialogues between ordinary Israelis and Palestinians can be an example of such creative diplomacy. If it goes well, Indonesia will lay the ground for a more prominent role in furthering the peace process in the Middle East.
Ary Aprianto is a diplomat at the Foreign Affairs Ministry who has worked on issues concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The views expressed in this article are his own.