Abdurrahman’s plan to embarrass Mega

Peres invited by Gus Dur to speak in Jakarta? He and his supporters circulate a report that the Israeli Foreign Minister will be giving a lecture at the end of the month.

A supposed plan by former president Abdurrahman Wahid to invite Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres here has been leaked to stir the Muslim ground and provoke a backlash towards President Megawati Sukarnoputri, sources said.

They said the plan was little more than a bluff publicised through the youth wing of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s largest moderate Muslim organisation.

But word that Mr Peres was invited to speak at a public lecture at the end of the month appeared to have been enough to rile Muslim hardliners, with several of them threatening violent demonstrations if he set foot in Indonesia.

Radical groups like the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and Kisdi have already sent protest letters to the NU leadership along with copies to legislators and the police.

‘People who are inviting Shimon Peres are puppets of the Jews,’ said FPI leader Habib Rizky.

Mr Nur Hamid Ketang of the NU youth wing said the decision to invite Mr Peres was aimed at promoting peace between Israel and Palestine.

But he himself downplayed the chances of Mr Peres actually taking up the offer, saying that the 30-million-strong NU did not have any funds for such a project.

The Straits Times understands that there was also little indication from Israeli authorities that the offer would be considered.

Sources said Mr Abdurrahman and those around him had cleverly floated the idea for domestic political reasons. ‘There is no chance that the Israeli Foreign Minister will visit Indonesia, given the repercussions it would generate,’ said a source close to the former president.

‘This is really aimed at making things difficult for Megawati.’

He said Mr Abdurrahman wanted to undermine and embarrass Ms Megawati, who is now on an official visit to China and the two Koreas, by stirring up Muslim sentiments – and possibly provoking unrest – at home.

The former president, who is still bitter that Washington was quick to dump him in favour of Ms Megawati last July, is also reportedly hoping to generate anti-Jewish sentiments that could in turn become anti-American.

During his final days as president, Mr Abdurrahman had himself tried to marshal Islamic militancy to save himself from impeachment.

Another objective was to embarrass his rival, the current NU chairman Hasyim Muzadi.

Mr Hasyim is known to be a moderate leader who is attempting to bridge links with other major Muslim groups like the Muhammadiyah.

Indonesia does not have any formal diplomatic or trade relations with Israel.

But resentment against the country runs high here, given the Palestinian issue.

Some local media reports blame Mr Peres, the founder of the Shimon Peres Foundation for Peace, for being responsible for the killings of 2,000 Palestinians during a conflict in eastern Beirut between in mid-1976. He was then the defence minister.

In recent years, growing violence in the Middle East has corresponded with periodic demonstrations in Indonesia. In the 80s, for example, there were large-scale protests after Mr Abdurrahman was made a member of Mr Peres’ foundation and made an informal visit there.

His latest move seems to have once again raised hackles.

Mr Habib of FPI said he had contacted Islamic organisations across the country to stage large-scale demonstrations if Mr Peres visited Indonesia.

Kisdi and the militant Laskar Jihad were also preparing to mobilise thousands.

Laskar Jihad leader Jaafar Umar Thalib said: ‘We are not going to let any Jew step into Indonesia.’

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