Sat, 01 Apr 2000

Israel urges Indonesia to end trade embargo

JAKARTA (JP): Israel called on the Indonesian government on Friday to lift the trade ban imposed on the Jewish state so that people from the two countries could have greater opportunities to conduct business and enhance friendly ties.

Eli Belotsercovsky, a Singapore-based Israeli diplomat, said that although the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties were still far away, friendship could still be established on the basis of people-to-people relations.

Speaking at a meeting held by the Department of International Relations of the School of Social and Political Sciences of the University of Indonesia, Belotsercovsky said Indonesia could have played an important role in helping settle the peace process in the Middle East.

"The lifting of the ban can be very fruitful to both peoples," he said, citing that direct trade between Indonesian and Israeli businesspeople last year was recorded at only US$20 million, compared to Israel and Singapore's bilateral trade which stood at $500 million in 1999.

Indonesia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations and Jakarta has made it clear it will not set up ties with the Jewish state until Israel returns all Arab land it occupied in the 1967 war and allows the Palestinians to have an independent state.

President Abdurrahman Wahid hinted last November that he planned to resume trade relations with Israel. The President, however, backpedaled on the plan following protests by several Muslim groups which strongly opposed the plan.

Israel, showing interest in building friendly ties with Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, responded to the idea and sent trade missions to Jakarta last December and January. Israeli businesspeople also complained about the difficulty visiting Indonesia due to the absence of ties.

According to Belotsercovsky, who is the first Israeli official to make a public speech in Indonesia, his country, as a peace- loving nation, would like to have friendly ties with all countries in the world.

"Peace is very important for us. Because we are small and not very strong," he said, adding that becoming stronger would not make conditions better for Israel if its people could find no peace.

"We have diplomatic relations with Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania and we have trade offices in Morocco, Qatar and Oman," he explained when asked about Israel's relations with Islamic and Arab countries.

The diplomat pointed out that his country was willing to pay the price of peace, but not if it was at a suicidal level that could threaten the safety of the Israeli people.

He said that despite Israel's interest in building a friendship with Indonesia, it was for the Jakarta government to decide whether the time was ripe to set up ties with the Jewish state.

Hours before the meeting began, some students tore posters announcing the holding of public discussion on "The Peace Process in the Middle East: Its Implications on the Prospect of the Opening of Indonesia-Israeli Diplomatic Relations".

Hariadi Wiryawan, chairman of the department, said it might have been done by students who opposed the public discussion on Israel, which to some extent remains a sensitive issue in the country.

Two key speakers scheduled to take part in the discussion were absent and the organizer of the meeting said the two could not attend the meeting because they were ill.

Despite the modest number of people in attendance, the meeting was considered important because it was a step closer to opening dialog with the Jewish state, a participant said. (ego)