Dec 22, 2021 - World

Scoop: Blinken raised Israel normalization with Indonesia

Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi. Photo: Olivier Douliery/Pool/AFP via Getty

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the possibility of Indonesia normalizing diplomatic relations with Israel in meetings with officials in Jakarta last week, Israeli officials say. The Israeli officials stressed that no such step is imminent.

Why it matters: Indonesia is the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world and a major market for Israeli companies, but it has no official diplomatic relations with Israel.

  • 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. A spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Flashback: Indonesia was one of the countries the Trump administration tried to bring into the Abraham Accords, but the negotiations hadn't matured by the time Trump’s term ended.

  • At that time, the Indonesians requested an upgraded trade deal with the U.S. in return for taking steps toward normalization, like opening direct flights and issuing visas to Israelis, according to former Trump administration officials.
  • The big picture: 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 U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Behind the scenes: U.S. and Israeli officials have been discussing ways to expand the Abraham Accords in recent months, and Indonesia has come up in that context, according to the Israeli officials.

  • A senior U.S. official said the Biden administration was working “quietly but quite assiduously” to expand the accords, though it may take time.
  • The Indonesian embassy in Washington did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Worth noting: 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.
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