U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi during their meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, Aug. 4, 2018.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi during their meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, Aug. 4, 2018.

JAKARTA, INDONESIA - Indonesia says it will use its new position on the U.N. Security Council to focus attention on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. But observers say Jakarta should use its seat to put forward a broader range of issues affecting Muslims and the agenda of developing countries.

Indonesia officially became a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council Jan. 1, along with four other countries: South Africa, Belgium, Dominican Republic and Germany.

Four areas and Palestine

During their candidacy, Indonesia pledged to focus on four issues. The Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi reiterated that they will focus on strengthening the peace ecosystem and global stability, enhancing synergy between regional organizations with the Security Council in keeping the peace, facing the international challenge of terrorism, and establishing a global partnership.

“Other than that, the issue in Palestine will also become Indonesia’s focus as non-permanent member in the U.N. Security Council,” the minister said.

Palestinians run for cover from tear gas during cl
Palestinians run for cover from tear gas during clashes with Israeli security forces near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Jabalia, May 14, 2018, as Palestinians protest over the inauguration of the U.S. embassy following its controversial move to Jerusalem.

“Indonesia is very concerned with the countries that changed their stance and it is against some of the U.N. resolutions that should be the basis of solving the Israel-Palestine conflict,” she added.

Fitri Bintang Timur, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta said it is an opportunity to put forward issues that are important not only for Indonesia, but for countries with similar political interests.

“For example middle-power countries and Islamic countries. Indonesia can encourage interventions that are important. Issues such as Palestine, Syria or Myanmar can be handled through an agreement,” she told VOA.

FILE - This photograph taken Sept.12, 2017, shows
FILE - This photograph taken Sept.12, 2017, shows Rohingya refugees arriving by boat at Shah Parir Dwip on the Bangladesh side of the Naf River after fleeing violence in Myanmar.

Rohingya and ASEAN

Indonesian can play a part, not only with the Palestine-Israel conflict, in solving the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, said Hikmahanto Juwana, a professor of International Law at the University of Indonesia.

“But that also depends on the U.N.’s intensity in their involvement in the Rohingya issue. We hoped that we could’ve solved it within a regional organization. But ASEAN has already tried and failed, so I think it’s necessary to discuss it in an international forum,” he said.

Juwana mentioned that discussion on the Rohingya has started in the U.N. and it has sent a special rapporteur to Myanmar.

But he said that bringing up the issue involving a fellow ASEAN member state will also be difficult.

“The problem in ASEAN is because the member states must have a consensus in an issue and that they have non-interference principle,” Juwana told VOA.

ASEAN leaders and delegates pose for a photo durin
ASEAN leaders and delegates pose for a photo during a working lunch on the sidelines of the 33rd ASEAN summit in Singapore, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018.

Nevertheless, Marsudi said in a press statement Wednesday that Indonesia will continue to contribute so that the Rohingya issue in Rakhine State will make progress.

Timur, of CSIS, said that in this case Indonesia could serve as a buffer for Myanmar when the U.N. decides to intervene in the Rohingya crisis. 

“In that case, Indonesia can say that intervention must be done through a regional organization within ASEAN. Then Indonesia can create a regional approach through lobbying, to solve the humanitarian conflict the ASEAN way,” she said.

And that will put Indonesia in a leadership position in ASEAN. Timur explained that without any Southeast Asian representative in the Security Council, it would be easier for them to make an agreement that might undermine ASEAN.

“But now Indonesia is a non-permanent member, they can lobby the UNSC,” she added.

Armed Houthi followers raise their rifles at a gat
Armed Houthi followers raise their rifles at a gathering showing support for their movement in Sanaa, Yemen, Dec. 19, 2018.

?Moderate voice of the Muslim world

Timur further explained that as a Muslim majority country, Indonesia could portray and voice a more moderate view of Islam. And its position would play out well in the lobbying on conflicts in other Muslim countries. 

“Such as the situation in the Middle East or conflict in Yemen,” Timur said.

But Indonesia’s role as a non-permanent member largely depends on the capacity of the diplomats posted at the U.N.

Juwana said the current foreign policy under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s leadership focuses more on bilateral relations rather than multilateral.

“Our foreign policy must be increased in capacity and deploy skillful diplomats,” he said.

But Marsudi said the Indonesian team at the U.N. has been strengthened since October 2018. 

“Moreover, Indonesia will hold the presidency of security council on May 2019 and in the middle of 2020,” she added.

FILE - Indonesia's U.N peacekeeping force marches
FILE - Indonesia's U.N peacekeeping force marches during a ceremony to commemorate the 65th military anniversary at a base in Jakarta, Oct. 5, 2010.

Other than contributions in discussions and lobbying, Indonesia will also send 4,000 peacekeepers by 2019. Indonesia currently has 3,500 peacekeepers on different missions with the U.N.

Marsudi also said Jakarta will send more women peacekeepers from Indonesia, especially in conflict areas where many of the victims are women and children. 

“As of now only 3 percent of the total number U.N. peacekeepers from Indonesia are women,” she said.

FILE - A freshly released dove is seen near presid
FILE - A freshly released dove is seen near presidential challenger Prabowo Subianto, right, as Indonesian Pesident Indonesian President Joko Widodo looks on during a ceremony marking the start of the campaigning period for next year's presidential election.

Change of leadership in Indonesia

The foreign minister said she had to lobby all members of the U.N. for three years before Indonesia finally won the post against Maldives with 144 votes out of 198. She added the landslide victory showed that Indonesia has gained credibility in international diplomacy.

But Timur warned the current presidential election campaign should not undermine the work of Indonesia in the U.N. Security Council.

“I’m afraid that things can change depending on the next presidency. We may have a different president, or if not a different minister who might not be as active in the international forum so we’ll see,” she said.