S’pore prepared in principle to recognise Palestine as a state at appropriate time: FM

Singapore's key consideration in doing so is that such a move should help the progress towards peace and a negotiated two-state solution, he added.

Chin Soo Fang

Chin Soo Fang

The Straits Times


Mr Vivian Balakrishnan being shown the city of Ramallah by Palestine Investment Fund chief officer (communications and PR) Awad Duaibes (centre) and then Palestinian Authority Prime Minister-designate Mohammad Mustafa (right) on March 18. PHOTO: THE STRAITS TIMES

July 3, 2024

SINGAPORE – Singapore is prepared in principle to recognise Palestine as a state and will make this move at an appropriate time, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament on July 2.

Its key consideration in doing so is that such a move should help the progress towards peace and a negotiated two-state solution, he added.

“In particular, there will need to be an effective Palestinian government that accepts Israel’s right to exist and categorically rejects terrorism,” Dr Balakrishnan said. “Both sides have legitimate rights, and both peoples have a right to live in peace and dignity within secure borders.”

He was responding to questions on Singapore’s May 10 decision to vote for a United Nations resolution backing the admission of Palestine as a member of the world body, which it said was made after “serious and careful consideration”.

PAP MPs Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and Mariam Jaafar (Sembawang GRC), along with Workers’ Party MP Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai, had subsequently filed parliamentary questions to ask about Singapore’s considerations for officially recognising Palestine as a state.

In his response, Dr Balakrishnan urged both sides to seize the moment to take steps towards a long-lasting peace and put an end to the suffering that has “gone on for too long”.

“Ultimately, Israelis and Palestinians would need to exercise leadership and would have to work together to forge a better future for their peoples. As Singapore is a friend to both, Singapore will continue to offer our encouragement and our tangible support to both Palestinians and Israelis,” he said.

The minister also reiterated the principles guiding Singapore’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He noted that Singapore has consistently advocated a negotiated two-state solution, consistent with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, as a way for Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in peace and security.

“This is the only viable path for achieving a comprehensive, a just and a durable solution to this conflict,” Dr Balakrishnan said.

Mr Giam asked about the thresholds that need to be crossed for Singapore to recognise the state of Palestine, to which Dr Balakrishnan said it depends on whether there is an effective Palestinian government or leadership that represents all Palestinians.

This authority should have effective control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the mandate and authority to negotiate with the Israelis on behalf of the Palestinians, he said.

“So, I would say that we are not going to lock ourselves in to a specific time, or to whether or not other countries have made decisions in parallel on the same fundamental question,” he added.

Dr Balakrishnan said that Singapore has consistently supported the right of the Palestinian people to a homeland.

In 1988, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation issued a proclamation on the State of Palestine that affirmed the UN’s partition of the Mandate of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state, as well as the organisation’s decision to renounce violence against Israel.

Singapore welcomed this proclamation because the Palestinian Liberation Organisation explicitly rejected terrorism and recognised the right of Israel as a state to exist, Dr Balakrishnan said, adding that Singapore saw these moves as progress towards a durable solution.

On April 18, a Security Council resolution that recommended Palestine be admitted to membership in the UN was vetoed.

On May 10, the General Assembly took up a resolution expressing support for Palestine’s membership in the UN and recommending that the Security Council reconsider this matter favourably.

Singapore had voted in favour of this resolution. The vote in the UN General Assembly was supported by 143 members and opposed by nine – including the United States and Israel – while 25 members abstained.

“Singapore voted in favour of this resolution after very careful consideration, and this reflected our hope to encourage both Israel and Palestine to resume direct negotiations towards a two-state solution at a time when, in fact, the prospects for such negotiations were increasingly bleak,” said Dr Balakrishnan.

He added: “We therefore decided to join the majority of the international community in supporting this resolution, which is also in line with our longstanding support for the principles of international law and for the implementation of all relevant Security Council resolutions.”

Mr Giam and fellow Workers’ Party MP Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) had also asked about Singapore’s plans to provide technical assistance to Palestinian officials and help them with reconstruction efforts after the conflict.

Dr Balakrishan said Singapore will continue its engagement with the Palestinian Authority (PA). Singapore continues to implement its $10 million Enhanced Technical Assistance Package (Etap) to help the PA build capacity and prepare for eventual statehood.

In 2013, then Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli presented an Etap worth $5 million to then PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The package was part of Singapore’s ongoing commitment to support the PA’s capacity building and development needs.

Under the Etap, PA officials are provided sponsorship to participate in study visits to Singapore and capacity-building courses under the Singapore Cooperation Programme. It also offers scholarships for the officials to pursue postgraduate studies at Singapore universities.

In 2016, then Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the doubling of the pledge amount of the previous package from $5 million to $10 million, with a focus on skills building.

To date, Singapore has trained more than 750 officials in areas like diplomacy, water management, economic development and urban planning – important areas that any government will need expertise in, Dr Balakrishnan said.

During his visit to Ramallah in March 2024, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa expressed appreciation for Singapore’s technical assistance and sought further capacity-building support in civil service training and digitalisation, he added.

As a follow-up, a course on transforming the public service using artificial intelligence will be organised for PA officials from July 8 to 12.

Under the Etap, Singapore has disbursed 13 postgraduate scholarships to Palestinian officials to pursue postgraduate studies in various areas, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics, international relations and computing at the Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore.

Three Palestinian officials have been awarded scholarships in 2024 in accountancy, international political economy and info-communications security.

“We hope that these training opportunities will help PA officials better serve the Palestinian people, as well as equip them with the necessary skills when it comes to the eventual reconstruction of Gaza,” he said.

On the question of helping Palestinian officials with the reconstruction of Gaza, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore will assess how best it can assist bilaterally and as part of multilateral efforts, and that he remains in close touch with his counterparts in the region on this issue.

He shared that Singapore participated in a conference co-hosted by King Abdullah II of Jordan, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on June 11 to discuss the humanitarian response to Gaza.

“We stand ready to contribute, taking into account Gaza’s needs and into account our own resources and expertise. But clearly, all this can only take effect when the fighting ceases,” he said. “For now, the focus has to be on securing an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and the release of all the hostages immediately.”

Mr Zhulkarnain then asked about further support that Singapore might provide once it recognises Palestine as a state.

Singapore intends to continue all its assistance packages and look for opportunities to do more, Dr Balakrishnan replied. “And quite frankly, the level of support that we provide to the PA will not depend upon whether or not there is formal recognition.”

Mr Leong also asked whether Singapore has made any defence sales to Israel, such as weapons that can cause any harm to civilians, since Oct 7, 2023. This was the date of the attack on Israel by Palestinian militant group Hamas.

In response, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore complies strictly with its international obligations on international arms sales, as well as UN sanctions and embargoes against any country, including submitting regular reports to the UN Register of Conventional Arms.

“Apart from this, it is the established policy of the Government not to publicly divulge any details of defence sales for national security reasons.”

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