Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know what’s going on in Israel and Palestine. If you don’t, fret not—Goody Feed has simplified it here.
On Friday (20 October), Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong spoke about the Israel-Hamas war during the inaugural summit between leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Saudi Arabia.
Here’s everything about what PM Lee said.
Singapore’s Balanced Approach to Relations With Israel and Palestine
It’s not uncommon to open Instagram these days and see your friends siding with one of the parties involved in the Israel-Hamas war (though, more often than not, your friends probably empathise with the Palestinian cause).
However, according to PM Lee, Singapore’s stance is a little different.
Singapore is doing the more “sensible thing”—adopting a more balanced approach, maintaining relations with both Israel and Palestine.
Before you dish out your criticisms on how “by maintaining relations with Israel, Singapore is morally culpable for the conflict as well”, you should hear PM Lee out.
It’s without a doubt that the Palestinian cause is deserving of sympathy. Yet, the fact of the matter is that specific attacks carried out by Hamas in the course of the conflict are condemnable—horrendous even, according to PM Lee.
Yet, as is the case with countless geopolitical conflicts throughout history, there are far more nuances to be made beyond the general, moralistic views that most of us may hold.
Singapore’s balanced approach to maintaining relations with Israel and Palestine allows our nation to navigate everything at stake in this conflict better and to continue advocating for a two-state solution—for both sides to live in peace in the long term.
As PM Lee said: “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 added.
And while the PM acknowledges that such an outcome seems very far off, unless progress in that direction can be made, “we are doomed to generations of bloodshed and tragedy”.
The PM added, “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.”
Israel’s Right to Self-Defence Must Maintain Within the Bounds of International Law
As the conflict continues raging, PM Lee emphasises the importance of compliance with international law as Israel exercises its right to defend itself against Hamas’ attacks.
He also adds that Israel has to do all it can to minimise civilian casualties and address humanitarian concerns that 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,” the PM said.
And while not all members of ASEAN share the same position as Singapore on the ongoing crisis, there remains some degree of consensus on the crisis.
On Friday, ASEAN issued a joint statement condemning all acts of violence, urging an end to the conflict, the unconditional release of civilian hostages, and safe humanitarian passage.
ASEAN also reaffirmed its support for a two-state solution.
Humanitarian Aid to be Provided to Civilians
But beyond international relations, what about the civilians caught in the crossfire?
Well, you’ll be glad to hear that the PM also talked about humanitarian aid for civilians.
“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,” the PM added.
And on that end, Singapore will do what it can to provide humanitarian support for civilian victims in Gaza and Israel.
Parliament to Discuss the Issue in Early November
You’ll also be glad to hear this: Members of Parliament (MPs) have already filed questions on the conflict at hand, so of course, our Parliament will be discussing the issue when it sits in November.
Notably, you’ve likely already seen the Workers’ Party (WP) statement on the issue.
If you haven’t, here’s a TLDR: the WP condemned the killing of civilians during the conflict, emphasised Singapore’s long-held stance of a two-state solution, and called for the cessation of all military operations in the Gaza strip.
You can read more about the WP’s statement here.
Possible Economic Cooperation Between ASEAN and GCC
PM Lee also spoke about the possibility of economic cooperation between GCC and ASEAN beyond the existing links between ASEAN member states and other nations in the Middle East.
For instance, Singapore currently has a free trade agreement with the GCC, otherwise known as the Gulf Cooperation Council-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (GSFTA). The GSFTA eliminates 99% of tariffs when it comes to Singapore’s exports to GCC markets.
Through such summits between ASEAN and GCC, there are hopes that member states of both ASEAN and GCC can go beyond these individual links and cooperate on a “more institutionalised basis”.
“I hope that we will be able to develop the volume of trade, which is already quite good, and investments, which is still quite modest,” PM Lee added.
So, what’s your take on the conflict now that you’ve heard from PM Lee?