Without Diplomatic Ties, Progress Made Toward Indonesia Issuing Tourist Visas for Israelis

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Tourists surf at the Kuta Beach near Bali on May 3, 2018.
Tourists surf at the Kuta Beach near Bali on May 3, 2018. Credit: SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP

Will there soon be vacation packages for Israelis in Bali? The IsraeI-Indonesia Chamber of Commerce reports progress in efforts to promote tourist visas for Israelis in the country, but a final decision has yet been made. Israel has no diplomatic relations with Indonesia despite a slight thawing of the distant ties in recent years.

"We hope that the people in Indonesia who are trying to promote this thawing in relations will soon succeed," Emanuel Shahaf, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, told Haaretz.

Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, does not officially recognize Israel. However, since the signing of the Oslo Accords, and even more so in recent years, there has been a strengthening of clandestine ties between the countries, and particularly economic ones.

The late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin even visited Indonesia in 1993. Israeli businessmen can visit with a special visa that can't be used for tourism. In December 2013 then-Economy Minister Naftali Bennet of Habayit Hayehudi visited there. The Economy Ministry's trade mission in Singapore is also in charge of ties with Indonesia, and in 2015 reported on a significant increase in trade, which then stood at the worth of about $500 million annually and included the import of raw materials such as plastic, wood, coal, textiles and palm oil. The exports were mainly in the fields of energy, water and technology industries.

In March 2016, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced, during a meeting with Indonesian journalists in Israel, that the time had come to establish formal relations with the country, maintaining that "the reasons that prevented the change in relations are no longer relevant, and adding, "I have quite a number of friends from Indonesia on Facebook."

A few weeks earlier, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely had revealed that Israel has been conducting secret contacts with Indonesia "in an attempt to improve the ties between the nations,'' and also said that "there was a visit by the head of the Foreign Ministry's Asia department in the capital city of Jakarta."

Hotovely was replying to a question about the fact that the Indonesian foreign minister was denied entry to the Palestinian Authority. The decision was made at the time due to her refusal to visit Jerusalem as well and to meet with Israeli government officials. At the Islamic summit that had taken place earlier in Jakarta, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said that products originating in the "illegal Israeli settlements" in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights should be boycotted.

In 2017 there were reports regarding Jakarta's intention of adding Israel to the list of countries whose citizens will not need a special visa in order to enter. The authorities denied that shortly afterwards.