Indonesia extends diplomatic support to Palestine

Yohanna Ririhena, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Wed, 02/29/2012
The Indonesian government underlines its commitment to support the Palestinian cause by intensifying bilateral relations between the two nations in all areas, from diplomatic engagement to sport cooperation.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has sent Indonesian ambassador to the US, Dino Patti Djalal, to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at his private residence in Amman, Jordan.

“I’ve met President Mahmoud Abbas to convey President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s letter to the Palestinian people,” Dino told The Jakarta Post over the phone after meeting with Abbas on Tuesday.

According to Dino, the letter comprises several points, including Indonesia’s plan to appoint an honorary consul to Palestine, who will be based in Ramallah.

“We’ll start with the appointment of [our] honorary consul in Ramallah,” he said without elaborating.

When asked on the time frame and how the office would operate, Dino refused to disclose the details.

Indonesia will be the first Southeast Asian country to open a representative office in Ramallah.

The plan to open an embassy in Palestine has been discussed by Indonesian lawmakers and government officials on various occasions. Indonesia has to coordinate with Israel before opening the office. Palestine already has an embassy in Indonesia.

Dino also said that Indonesia would send its national soccer team to Ramallah for a friendly match.

According to Dino, Yudhoyono would also urge Indonesians to visit Palestine to boost tourism in the country. Indonesian visitors to Palestine has increased over the past years. For example, in 2007, some 700 Indonesians went to Palestine, mainly as tourists. The number increased significantly to 19,000 people in 2011.

The Indonesian government offers 1,000 scholarships for Palestinians, mainly for those working as civil servants, to study various subjects at state universities across Indonesia. So far, 300 Palestinian students have been studying at the Yogyakarta-based Gadjah Mada University and the Bandung Institute of Technology.

In addition, the government will give a special incentives for Palestinians who have an interest in studying in Indonesia, by giving them the local standard tuition fee.

“Even though they are considered as international students, they will only have to pay the local standard tuition fee,” Dino added.

Furthermore, Yudhoyono would like to boost Indonesian-Palestinian private sector cooperation. At least, he hoped that businesspeople from both nations would meet to explore trade and investment opportunities.

Despite being tasked to visit Palestine, Dino denied that he acted as the president’s special envoy to Palestine, citing his close relation with Abbas as the reason.

“I have met with President Abbas twice before. He is a good man, and fatherly. He even gave a gift for my family,” Dino said.

Abbas urged more Indonesians to visit Jerusalem, as it would boost the tourism industry and benefit Palestinian people.

In the 45-minute meeting, President Abbas briefed Dino on the latest developments in the Palestinian-Israel negotiations, the general aspects of Palestinian economy and Fatah and Hamas’ ongoing reconciliation process.

The main Palestinian political rivals took a major step toward healing their bitter rift in early February, agreeing that Abbas would head an interim unity government to prepare for general elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The agreement, brokered by Qatar, seemed to bring reconciliation within reach for the first time since the rivals established separate governments, following Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza in 2007. Previous deals have collapsed amid deep suspicions and intervention by the sides’ rival foreign patrons.

Abbas is backed by the West while Hamas has been supported by Iran.

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