Asia Watch: They said it

Francis Paul Siah: Outlier voice in Malaysia

 

Reflexive hostility towards Israel and sympathy for the Palestinians has been institutionalised into the foreign policies of Malaysia and, in a different way, Indonesia for several decades. Whenever the Israeli-Palestinian issue flares into the international arena, one can expect pro forma official statements of condemnation/support along with the odd tirade from a zealot. Then there is the occasional outlier or voice of reason.

There was a certain predictability in the response to the release of the Trump Administration’s peace plan for the Middle East.

In Malaysia, condemnation of the plan and reaffirmed support for the Palestinians was almost unanimous. 

Taking the lead, naturally, was [then] Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed, describing the plan as “utterly unacceptable” and “grossly unjust” to the Palestinians. 

“This deal will only bring more conflict to the region, and will antagonise billions of people around the world,” Mahathir said in Kuala Lumpur at the third conference of the League of Parliamentarians for Al-Quds, which was attended by senior Malaysian politicians as well as parliamentarians from Muslim and African countries. 

Dr. Mahathir added that keeping quiet over the Israeli “massacres” of the Palestinians is like being complicit in the crime. “If we, too, choose to be silent, the blood from the murders and killings of the Palestinians by the Israelis is on our hands as well.”

Similar sentiments came from his notional ally Anwar Ibrahim, who told the conference that the Trump peace plan “confers and supports the dispossession of people’s land, robbing people’s land.” 

Anwar also criticised fellow Muslim countries for supposedly allowing Israel to defy United Nations resolutions pertaining to the Palestine-Israeli conflict. “Muslim countries and developing countries must answer why we are complicit, abdicating our moral responsibilities (in seeking justice for Palestinians),” he said.

Deputy PM Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Anwar’s wife, told the Al-Quds conference, “While Malaysia remains supportive to any genuine effort made by any party aimed at achieving just and comprehensive peace to the Palestine-Israel conflict, Malaysia stands by its position that the creation of an independent State of Palestine is by way of a two-State solution and be based on pre-1967 borders.”

Nothing particularly surprising about the previous comments, but there was not complete unanimity. 

A comment piece in the Malaysian Chronicle by Francis Paul Siah, who heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak, asked why should any Malaysian take sides in Israeli-Palestinian issues when they do not impact life in Malaysia. “If it is only because we share the same religion and believe in the same God as one of the warring parties, that reason sounds pretty shallow to me,” he said.

“I wish to proclaim here that my prime minister, Mahathir, does not speak for me, a Malaysian, in his never-ending tirades against Israel… When others say that Mahathir has a personal vendetta against the Jews, I believe they were not wrong… We, Malaysians, must surely be aware that there is nothing in our Rukun Negara or constitution, declaring that all Malaysians must consider Israel as their common enemy. I am still at a loss today as to why Malaysians are barred from visiting Israel.”

In neighbouring Indonesia, reaction to the Trump peace plan was muted, and the language measured and formal. 

Concerned that the peace plan did not adhere to “internationally agreed parameters”, a Foreign Ministry statement to the Jakarta Post said, “The issue of Palestine shall be resolved based on the principles of the ‘two-state solution’ that respects international law.

“Indonesia once again encourages the resumption of dialogues among relevant parties to achieve stability and lasting peace,” the ministry said.

Interestingly, a January article in the Jakarta Globe by Ari Aprianto, a diplomat in the Foreign Ministry, argued (in a personal capacity) that Indonesia should look at other means of supporting the Palestinians and promoting peace, chiefly through facilitating “grassroots dialogues” between ordinary Israelis and Palestinians. 

Acknowledging the “tricky” problem of Indonesia having no diplomatic relationship with Israel, Aprianto suggested that programs could be run through networks of non-state actors: 

“The trickiest part would be managing the sentiments of certain elements of the Indonesian society since the program will likely include the visits of Israeli citizens to Indonesia…

“It is high time to educate the Indonesian public about the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Israeli occupation and violence toward Palestinian people is a fact, there is also the fact that there are people from both sides who seek peace.

“It is also high time for many Indonesians to learn that a lot of their sentiments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may no longer be valid. Islam is not the only religion in Palestine. The Middle East and the Arab world is changing.”