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HomeFocusIsrael-Hamas war: Singapore adopts balanced approach, reiterates two-state solution

Israel-Hamas war: Singapore adopts balanced approach, reiterates two-state solution

“Particularly, I think the Muslim population in Singapore are very agitated about it because there’s a certain feeling of empathy and compassion, particularly closely felt for the Palestinian cause,” said Mr Lee, adding that it is “completely understandable”.

By SK Husain
South-east Asia Correspondent
Radiance News Service

October 24, 2023: Singapore has adopted a balanced approach towards the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, saying the “sensible thing” for the country is to maintain relations with both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and to provide humanitarian aid for “civilian victims, in Gaza especially, but also in Israel”.

At the same time, the South-east Asian nation has reaffirmed its support for a negotiated two-state solution that would allow both Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in peace.

“It’s always very worrying when you see humanitarian crisis developing, when innocent civilians suffer – infants, kids, old folks, grandparents – sometimes as a side effect of military conflict, sometimes directly targeted,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Riyadh.

Mr Lee was answering questions from journalists before the end of his trip to Saudi Arabia to attend the inaugural summit last week between leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Asean has called for an immediate end to violence in the Middle East.

Mr Lee described the attack by Hamas against civilians in Israel as “horrendous” and unjustified, but said Israel, in exercising its right to defend itself, should comply with international law. “If we go by international law, the Israelis will have the right to self-defence, to defend themselves,” said Mr Lee. “But in exercising that right, you have yourself to comply with international law … and you have to do all you can to minimise civilian casualties and address humanitarian concerns which are going to arise.”

“And you have to do this, not just because the law is written that way, but also because from Israel’s own interest, if you just respond emotionally, cathartically but in a way which doesn’t help to solve a problem, you may get yourself into a much worse situation,” media reports quoted him as saying.

Mr Lee said people in Singapore are closely following the events in the Middle East.

“Particularly, I think the Muslim population in Singapore are very agitated about it because there’s a certain feeling of empathy and compassion, particularly closely felt for the Palestinian cause,” said Mr Lee, adding that it is “completely understandable”.

“But at the same time, we also have to do what is the sensible thing to do for Singapore – to maintain relations with both the Israelis as well as the Palestinians and to do what we can to provide humanitarian support for the civilian victims, in Gaza especially, but also in Israel.”

In the long term, Singapore believes that the two sides have to live in peace, Mr Lee said, adding that “there is really no alternative”.

“The only way to get there is to have a two-state solution. In other words, for the Palestinians to acknowledge that Israelis have a right to exist and to have a nation, a state, a country, and the Israelis to acknowledge that the Palestinians have a right to exist and to live in their own country,” he said.

“You have to work towards such an outcome. It looks very far off. It has not made a lot of progress in the last 10, 15 years. But unless you can make progress in that direction, we are doomed to generations of bloodshed and tragedy.

“I don’t think either side really wants that. How to get from here to there? That’s very hard, but I don’t think we can afford to give up on that aspiration.”

MPs in Singapore have filed questions on the issue, and there will be a full discussion when parliament sits in November, said Mr Lee.

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