The Israel-Palestine issue is an emotional one, especially for Muslims, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who reiterated on Monday (20 February) Singapore’s support for a two-state solution in the Middle East.
Speaking on the occasion of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s first official visit to the Republic, Lee said, “I explained (to Netanyahu) why while the Middle East is far away from Southeast Asia, it has an impact on us and it’s of considerable concern for us.
“We ourselves have a significant Muslim population who are an important part of our harmonious multi-racial society,” Lee said at a press briefing held at the Istana.
Lee added that the two-state solution, however hard to achieve, is the only way to bring peace and security to the Israeli and Palestinian people.
During his visit to Israel last year, Lee expressed Singapore’s views on the issue to Netanyahu, he added. Last April, Lee made an official week-long trip to the Middle East, which also included visits to Jordan and the Palestinian Territories.
“Today, the Prime Minister (Netanyahu) updated me on the developments and I explained Singapore’s position again, and expressed my hope for peace between Israel and Palestine, which will contribute to a stabler Middle East and indeed a stabler world,” Lee said.
Reactions from Singaporean Muslim professionals
Speaking in his personal capacity, Damanhuri Abas, a businessman and a member of the Singapore Democratic Party, said the Singapore government should take the opportunity to highlight to Israel that some of its policies are in contravention of United Nations resolutions and international law, such as the continuous construction of new settlements in the West Bank.
“By doing so, Singapore would truly be a worthy friend who is ready to use its friendship and diplomatic channels to remind and correct (Israel) where it is needed,” Damanhuri said.
Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, a fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, said that despite the close bilateral ties, Singapore’s position on the two-state solution is guided by UN resolutions and the views of the international community.
He added that Singapore’s position is also informed by domestic considerations of its “sizeable, largely pro-Palestinian, Malay/Muslim community” and the concerns of Malaysia and Indonesia, which are Muslim-majority neighbouring countries.
“As far as the peace process goes, there will neither be peace nor will there be any meaningful process should there continue to be a right-wing government running the country of Israel, and the continuing increase in settlement activity which has rendered the two-state solution more or less dead in the water,” he said.
Israel is Singapore’s “old friend”
Calling Israel “an old friend”, Lee said that the relationship between the two countries started with defence cooperation when Singapore unexpectedly became independent in 1965.
Israel responded to the Republic’s request to help build the Singapore Armed Forces and since then, bilateral ties have expanded beyond defence and security, Lee said.
Netanyahu, who is on a two-day visit, said that he is amazed by Singapore’s growth and that the Republic and Israel are global partners in many areas.
“I believe that our cooperation will make us even more successful and I think that the opportunities (between the two countries) are vast.
“The future belongs to those who innovate. Singapore and Israel are innovation nations and together we can bring more prosperity and more hope and a better life for our people,” said Netanyahu.