President Donald Trump decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has spurred protests from both ordinary citizen and leaders around the world. It is considered irresponsible and will endanger peace process between Palestine and Israel. Such path-breaking move could exacerbate the already fragile and highly volatile political-security situation in the Middle East.
The current US president is a problematic figure. Aside from lies and false statements he often made to attack political opponents and mainstream media, Trump has also shown a deeply worrying quality of leadership at home and abroad.
His ascendancy to presidential office is currently under investigation of Special Counsel led by former FBI director Robert Mueller. This relates to suspicion over collusion of Trump’s campaign team members, including his son Donald Trump, Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner, with Russian government. Both had e-mail exchanges and later met with Russian lawyer and lobbyist discussing dossiers against Hillary Clinton, the Democrat Party’s presidential candidate in 2016 election. Michael Flynn, former national security advisor and close ally of president, pleaded guilty for giving false information to the FBI; he failed to disclose his communication with Russian officials during transitional period. Meanwhile, Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was indicted by the FBI for serious crimes of conspiracy against the US government, including money laundering –for years Manafort has established a firm career as lobbyist for foreign government, e.g. Ukraine, Congo, and the Philippine.
President Trump has suffered from loss of public approval since he entered the presidential office in January 2017; last record shows only 35 per cent. In contrast with his own self-bragging statement –once he said no one had ever made as many accomplishments as he did in the first year in office, wave of protests and plea for impeachment have mounted for months in many places in the US. Some of Republican members of Congress have even considered the possibility to withdraw their support for President Trump. Meanwhile, Democrat is gaining momentum to overcome its previous poor performance; the party’s winning in series of senate special election this year demonstrates this point.
Crisis over legitimacy (and lack of confidence) upon President Trump to lead the world resolving today’s most pressing problem also looms large. US withdrawal from the Paris climate accord in June 2017 is a serious setback in global attempt to mitigate and reduce the devastating impacts of rapid proliferation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The US used to be at the forefront of multilateral negotiation on climate change; however its unfortunate reluctance has apparently positioned the country in awkward situation to advance initiatives on other development agenda as well, e.g. inclusive education and protection of women and children. Trump had been reported making inappropriate comment about his female counterparts and committing sexual harassment –however, he refuted all accusation and downplayed it as cheap political attacks.
Recent Trump’s statement on Jerusalem has only made his political and diplomatic track record worsened.
How Indonesia should respond to this brouhaha? President Joko Widodo has asserted Indonesia support for the independence of Palestine. “(Trump unilateral recognition) could destabilize global security,” Jokowi said. He then ordered Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi to officially convey this message to the US Ambassador.
It would be counter-productive, and dangerous, to initiate drastic change in the current state of Indonesia-US relations, i.e. diplomatic termination –as suggested by either nationalist or religion-based domestic pressure groups. Nevertheless, a well-calibrated policy adjustment might be needed in our side.
Taking a distance with any upcoming US policy on Palestine-Israel and North Korea affairs is crucial to give ourselves an opportunity to asses the possible consequences carefully. Indonesian foreign policy has always been free and active in nature; there are many instances where the country took different approaches in responding to regional and global affairs. On the issue of Rohingya crisis, for example, Indonesian government and ASEAN have maintained dialogue and active engagement either with the past ruling junta and current civilian leadership in Burma, rather than politics of isolation and embargo advocated by US and other Western powers.
We have reason to set this sceptical tone. Throughout nearly a year of Trump presidency, we have learned how decision-making process in the US is seriously lacking of deep understanding about geopolitics and international politics in general. State Secretary Rex Tillerson and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly discreetly cast a doubt upon the president capability to understand inner-working of government, let alone to handle crisis.
Recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is indeed potentially accelerating the antipathy towards the US establishment. Therefore, anxiety over further violence and terrorist attacks not only in the Middle East but also places thousand miles away from Jerusalem should not be discounted. As the biggest Moslem country in the world, Indonesia needs to move away from the war-mongering politics demonstrated by the current US leadership and instead offer better solution to end the deadly conflict between Palestine and Israel.
Aligning with Trump’s US and permissively accommodating his world view will only harm the national interest of Indonesia. (Muhamad Haripin, Researcher at the Centre for Political Studies, LIPI).