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Indonesia Awaits Obama’s Gaza Plan

New America Media, Commentary, Bramantyo Prijosusilo Posted: Jan 04, 2009

Editor’s Note: Indonesia excitedly greeted the election of Barack Obama because of his childhood ties to that country. But as the world’s largest Muslim country, it is also troubled by Obama’s low profile on Gaza, according to NAM contributing writer Bramantyo Prijosusilo.

JAKARTA, Indonesia – More than 10,000 people took to the streets of Jakarta this week protesting the strikes by Israel on the Gaza strip. The largest Muslim country in the world is now looking to President-elect Barack Obama for leadership on the crisis.

Indonesia has long hoped that a President Obama will choose it as his first overseas stopover after he takes office. Obama spent some of his childhood in Indonesia. As the largest Muslim country in the world, it could also be of great strategic importance as a symbolic gesture to the world’s troubled Muslims.

If Israel had not begun to bomb Gaza during the time when Muslims were celebrating their New Year, Obama would receive the welcome of a homecoming hero if he were to visit Indonesia. However, the fact that days after the bombing he refrained from saying anything at all does a lot to damage his image in Muslim communities.

No country should endure daily attacks with homemade rockets that occasionally kill people. Without Hamas’ constantly lobbing rockets into Israel, the current Gaza massacre would not have happened.

On the other hand, no nation should endure military occupation and daily humiliation that Palestinians have been suffering for over 60 years. Without Israel’s aggressive, land- grabbing, settlement and blockading policy, Hamas would not have the influence it has amongst Palestinians.

In Indonesia there has been widespread condemnation for the attacks on Gaza, ranging from calls for an immediate ceasefire to street protests to calls for volunteers for a jihad in Palestine. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has called on the United Nations to take steps to end the violence, and has pledged to contribute to a peacekeeping force there. Islamic political parties have collected funds for the Palestinians. Soebri Lubis of the radical Islam Defenders Front, who earlier this year called for the killing of the members of the Ahmadiyah sect, said he will defy the government’s prohibition on sending jihadis to fight there.

The most balanced comment in Indonesia has undoubtedly come from the liberal ex-President Gus Dur. He condemns all kinds of violence and calls for all parties to help the Palestinians and not see the attacks on Gaza as a problem to be faced by Hamas alone. He also demanded that Hamas cease using violence in order to stop giving an excuse to the conservatives in Israel to use their military might against Palestinians. Quoted by the Jakarta-based web news service detik.com, Gus Dur said : “Hamas must return to diplomacy and talks, and not use violence that will ultimately sacrifice the Palestinian people.”

Immediately after Obama is sworn into office, the Islamic world will expect him and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take concrete and measured steps to bring about peace in Palestine. As the representations of hope for the world, the new U.S. administration is expected to be able to bring all the stakeholders in the conflict to talk constructively at the same table.

As things stand now, Hamas’ choice of violence to articulate their grievances has resulted in the West’s refusal to deal with them. Meanwhile, the absence of a politically significant Left in Israel makes its policies unacceptably aggressive. These conditions are probably the two greatest obstacles in bringing together a representative gathering of stakeholders who could bring about peace in Palestine.

If Obama decides to visit Indonesia early on in his presidency, he would be wise to come with concrete and balanced plans for peace in Palestine. If he does, he will receive overwhelming support from people like the influential Gus Dur and other moderate Muslims here. This would not only help bring about peace in Palestine, it would also help Indonesia’s peaceful Muslims in their ongoing struggle against the Islamists who employ violence to achieve their aims.

On the other hand, in the face of the renewed Muslim anger around the world, Obama’s reaction to this crisis will now be the deciding factor in determining whether he will be welcomed, in Indonesia or in any other Muslim country. So far, by declaring over and again his support for Israel while refraining to express sympathy for the Palestinians, Obama has begun to lose the sympathy he had within the Muslim community. If he doesn’t quickly correct this and present an image of a fair arbitrator, it is highly likely that he will be welcomed with showers of shoes rather than garlands of flowers when he visits an Islamic country.

Related Articles:

Iran’s Support of Hamas Unnerves Egypt

Hamas is Not Iran's Puppet

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