Kornelius Purba, Jakarta – As soon as the emergency summit of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Riyadh this Sunday finishes, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo will rush to Washington, DC to meet United States President Joe Biden at the White House on Monday in his capacity as the messenger of the Islamic world.
Reuters quoted the Indonesian leader as saying he would ask Biden to do something to stop the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, which has claimed so many civilian lives. However, Jokowi should not miss such a rare opportunity as a bilateral meeting with the leader of a great power to raise the interests of Indonesia.
"From there, I will fly to meet President Joe Biden. Because from the OIC summit, I will be delegated to tell President Biden that the Hamas-Israel war should immediately be stopped," Jokowi told journalists on Thursday.
It will be a new subject of bilateral discussion between the two leaders. Originally, their talks were to focus on security in the Indo-Pacific region.
Indonesia, the world's largest predominantly Muslim nation, has been a constant supporter of Palestine and has repeatedly said it will never open diplomatic relations with Israel until Palestine achieves its dream of becoming an independent state under a two-state formula.
When Hamas attacked Israel, killed more than 1,400 people, and kidnapped more than 200 people on Oct. 7, Indonesia opted to remain quiet. But as the war prolonged and its impacts were devastating to the people of Gaza, Jakarta has called for a cease-fire.
Israel's relentless attacks on Gaza have killed more than 10,500 people, according to Palestinian authorities. Many others may die as Israel has blocked Gaza's access to food and medical supplies.
Details of Jokowi's message of peace to President Biden will only be known after the OIC summit concludes. I am quite certain, however, that the OIC will urge Biden to put pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept a ceas-fire or at least a humanitarian pause. It will be easier said than done, because the Israeli leader is not used to listening to the world's aspirations. He will only care about his popularity at home.
Last year, when Indonesia assumed the Group of 20 presidency, Jokowi also conveyed a message of peace in person to the Russian and Ukrainian leaders by visiting Moscow and Kyiv. The Ukraine war, which started when Russia invaded in February 2022, still drags on.
President Jokowi should hope for much from the White House discussion. Even if his mission results in no commitment from Biden, Jokowi will at least win accolades from predominantly Muslim nations or even Islamic countries for his effort. Historically, Indonesia has never played a prominent role in the OIC, which also rarely produces powerful decisions that have a major impact on international security and peace.
The role of messenger for the Islamic world is totally new for the President. It is not clear why the OIC has entrusted him with such an important mission even before the summit.
I guess the decision was taken during the meeting of Saudi Arabia's Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman al Saud with President Jokowi on the sidelines of the ASEAN- Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit in Riyadh on Oct. 19. Jokowi attended the summit in his capacity as chairman of ASEAN and president of Indonesia, an OIC member state.
The crown prince has met with Jokowi several times, including during the G20 Summit in Bali in November last year. The two leaders appear to have a strong personal bond.
Jokowi was invited to the White House on Sept. 9 for a bilateral meeting with Biden after the two met on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in India. "President Biden looks forward to welcoming President Jokowi to Washington for a bilateral meeting at the White House this November," the White House stated in September.
From Washington, DC, the President will move to San Francisco to attend the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, which President Biden will host.
Jokowi, like his predecessors, has persistently defended the right of the Palestinian people to independence, but has also told them, especially Hamas, which vows to delete Israel from the world map, that the two-state solution is the only option to end the decades-long crisis.
When attending the OIC emergency summit in Istanbul in December 2017, Jokowi strongly refuted then-US president Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel. The US leader had made several efforts to push Indonesia to open a diplomatic relationship with Israel, which the President always bluntly turned down.
At that time, Jokowi also urged fellow OIC leaders to produce something concrete and actionable to help the Palestinians. "The issue of Palestine should bring us back together. We unify the voice to defend Palestine," the President said at that time.
Whether this time around the OIC will produce concrete decisions that will help end the suffering of the Gaza people remains to be seen.
APEC is the premier platform for the US to advance economic policies in the Asia-Pacific region to promote free, fair and open trade and investment and advance sustainable and inclusive economic growth. Certainly, the Israel-Hamas war is not on the summit's agenda, but Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has vowed to raise the Palestinian cause when attending the APEC leaders' gathering.
APEC has become a dynamic engine of economic growth and one of the most important regional forums in the Asia-Pacific. Its 21 member economies are home to around 2.95 billion people and represented approximately 62 percent of world GDP and 48 percent of world trade in 2021.
The President is carrying two missions in his US trip. First is to ask the American leader to work for a cease-fire in Gaza, and second is to make sure an emerging economy like Indonesia can reap real benefits from the summit. Both are tall orders for Jokowi.
[The writer is a senior editor at The Jakarta Post.]