Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan's Oral Reply to Parliamentary Questions on Palestine, 2 July 2024

02 July 2024



Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) what is Singapore’s position on the recent unsuccessful draft UN Security Council resolution to recommend granting the State of Palestine full membership in the United Nations; and (b) what are Singapore’s considerations to support such a recommendation, in light of Singapore’s voting record of abstention on the status of Palestine in the United Nations as a non-Member Observer State at the 67th UN General Assembly on 29 November 2012.


Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) how effective has Singapore’s technical assistance to Palestinian officials been in helping the Palestinian Authority to function more effectively as a state; (b) what other contribution is Singapore making towards realising a two-state solution with the Israelis and Palestinians living side-by-side in peace and security; and (c) what prevents Singapore from officially recognising the State of Palestine before a two-state solution is reached


Mr Muhamad Faisal Manap: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether Singapore has any plans to train Palestinian officials from Gaza towards aiding in the reconstruction of the enclave once military operations have ceased.


Ms Mariam Jaafar: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs in light of the votes by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on a resolution to support the admission of Palestine as a UN member and the subsequent actions by certain European Union states to recognise Palestine as a state in May 2024 (a) whether it is timely for Singapore to recognise Palestine as a state; and (b) if so, what are the considerations in doing so.


Mr Leong Mun Wai: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) whether Singapore will consider establishing full diplomatic relations with the State of Palestine; and (b) if not, what are Singapore’s considerations for not doing so.




          Mr Speaker, I seek your approval to answer Question Numbers 39 to 43 together as they all relate to the issue of Palestine.


2        Let me begin by reaffirming the principles guiding Singapore’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We have consistently advocated for a negotiated two-state solution, that is consistent with the relevant United Nations (UN) Security Council resolutions, because we believe this is the way for Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in peace and security. In fact, this is the only viable path for achieving a comprehensive, just, and durable solution to this conflict. We have also consistently supported the right of the Palestinian people to a homeland. In 1988, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) issued a proclamation on the State of Palestine which affirmed the UN’s partition of the Mandate of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish State, as well as the PLO’s decision to renounce violence against Israel. We welcomed this proclamation because the PLO, back in 1988, had explicitly rejected terrorism and recognised the right of the State of Israel to exist. We saw these moves as progress towards a durable solution.


3        On 18 April 2024, a UN Security Council resolution that recommended that Palestine be admitted to membership in the UN was vetoed. On 10 May 2024, the General Assembly took up a resolution expressing support for Palestine’s membership in the United Nations and recommending that the Security Council reconsider this matter favourably. Singapore voted in favour of this resolution after very careful consideration. 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. We therefore decided to join the majority of the international community in supporting the resolution, which is also in line with our longstanding support for the principles of international law and for the implementation of all relevant UN Security Council resolutions.


4        Our vote at the United Nations General Assembly means that Singapore is prepared in principle to recognise the State of Palestine. We will make this move at an appropriate time. Our key consideration is that such a move on our part should help progress towards peace and a negotiated two-state solution. In particular, there will need to be an effective Palestinian government that accepts Israel’s right to exist and categorically rejects terrorism. Both sides have legitimate rights, and both peoples have a right to live in peace and dignity within secure borders.  We urge 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 need to exercise leadership and will 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 tangible support to both Palestinians and Israelis.


5        Singapore will continue our engagement with the Palestinian Authority. We will continue to implement our S$10 million Enhanced Technical Assistance Package (ETAP) to help the PA build capacity and prepare for eventual statehood. To date, we have trained more than 750 officials in areas like diplomacy, water management, economic management, and urban planning. These are important, vital areas that any government will need to have the necessary expertise in. During my visit to Ramallah in March this year, Prime Minister of Palestine Mohammad Mustafa expressed his appreciation for our longstanding technical assistance and in fact he sought further capacity-building support especially in civil service training and digitalisation. I welcomed his interest and said Singapore will do our best to respond. As a follow-up, there will be a course on “Transforming Public Service with the Power of Artificial Intelligence” which we will conduct for Palestinian Authority officials later this month. We also provide fully funded scholarships for Palestinian officials to pursue postgraduate studies in in our local universities. Three Palestinian officials have already been awarded scholarships this year, in accountancy, international political economy, and info-communications security. We hope that these training opportunities will help Palestinian Authority officials better serve the Palestinian people, as well as equip them with necessary skills when it comes to the eventual reconstruction of Gaza.  


6        On Mr Faisal Manap’s specific question on training Palestinian officials to aid in the reconstruction of Gaza, let me just state that Singapore will assess how best we can assist bilaterally and in fact as part of multilateral efforts. I remain in close touch with my counterparts in the Middle East on this issue. Singapore participated in a Conference co-hosted by King Abdullah II of Jordan, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on 11 June this year to discuss the humanitarian response to Gaza. We stand ready to contribute, taking into account Gaza’s needs and in account of our own resources and expertise. But clearly all these can only take effect when the fighting ceases. For now, however, the focus should be on securing an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and the release of all the hostages immediately.


Supplementary Questions


Question 1:


Mr Gerald Giam: I thank the Minister for his answers. What would be the thresholds that need to be crossed for Singapore to recognise the state of Palestine, and specifically, would it happen only when a two-state solution is negotiated and concluded? If so, this is no different from Singapore's previous position. Secondly, does the Minister agree that the formal recognition of Palestinian statehood by Singapore and other countries which have close relations with Israel, such as Spain, Ireland and Norway, would be a significant statement of unequivocal support to a two-state solution, and will give impetus to advancing the moribund peace process? And lastly, would the Minister agree that the recognition of Palestine would allow for negotiations to proceed on a more equal footing between two recognised states? This refers to the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, rather than one State negotiating with a non-state entity.


Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: I thank Mr Giam for the question. In fact, I also thank him for accompanying me on my trip to the Middle East in March 2024. Let me reiterate that we are prepared, in principle, to recognise Palestine. And the principal consideration is will it be helpful when we do this, or will it hinder the progress towards peace? Which, in turn depends on negotiations between both sides. But a key point, you mentioned “equal”, and a key question which every single country that is pondering this question has to decide, is that is there an effective Palestinian government or leadership who represents all Palestinians which has effective control over, at a minimum, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and has the mandate and the authority to negotiate with the Israelis on behalf of Palestinians? And quite frankly, I think every other country in the world will have to grapple with this same question, but will arrive at that answer, at a different threshold or a different point in time. It will also depend on their own domestic circumstances. So, I would say that we are not going to lock ourselves into a specific time or to whether other countries have made decisions in parallel on the same fundamental question. Let me summarise again. We are prepared, in principle, to recognise the state of Palestine, but we want to do so at an appropriate moment when it is helpful, and you must have an effective Palestinian government, and one which, as I alluded to earlier, which must categorically renounce terrorism and must accept the right of Israel to exist. Within those parameters, I look forward to progress. I do not know exactly when that will happen, but I certainly look forward to progress.


Question 2:


Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim: Thank you Speaker. I also thank the Honourable Minister for the response to my question. First, the recognition of a State is not merely a diplomatic exercise, it entails legal implications as well. Under international law, there are conditions for the recognition of statehood. So has the Ministry conferred with the Attorney General and Ministry of Law to assess whether Singapore would be ready to recognise a particular State and whether that State fulfils the conditions of being recognised as a state under international law? This has repercussions on international treaties and the enforcement of court orders. The second supplementary question follows. With Minister, we visited the Singapore Representative Office in Ramallah, and met ETAP participants who were are all very thankful for the Singapore Government's support. My question is if Singapore recognises the State of Palestine right now, what kind of further support to the Palestinian Authority can Singapore provide, which we have not already provided or unable to provide right now? Thank you, Minister.


Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: I thank Mr Zhul. You were in Ramallah with me, when we had discussions with the Palestinian Authority leadership, including the graduates (alumni) of our ETAP program. Let me answer your second question first. We intend to continue all our assistance packages. We intend to also look for opportunities to do more. And quite frankly, the level of support that we provide to the Palestinian Authority will not depend upon whether there is formal recognition or not or what happens even on the international stage. You will know, in fact, all of you will know, that even without formal status, the Palestinian Prime Minister had visited Singapore. Our then-Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has been to Ramallah. Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean and I, as well as Second Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Maliki Osman, have made numerous trips to Ramallah. So, the point I want to assure you is that the interactions, the support, the assistance that we provide to the Palestinian Authority is not subject to the other political and diplomatic considerations. Now let me come to your first question - the formal recognition of statehood is not just a diplomatic question or a legal question. More specifically, in the case of Palestine, as per the current situation, you can make legal arguments both ways on whether it fulfils the four criteria of the Montevideo Convention; namely permanent people, defined territories, effective government, and the capacity to enter relations with other States. You can make legal arguments both ways. Ultimately, we believe that this is a political question, and therefore it will be subject to the political considerations of the different entities that are trying to engage the Palestinian people. In the case of Singapore, I said our principal consideration is that we have always believed in a negotiated two-state solution. We believe that the Palestinian people have a right to a homeland. We will continue to support the Palestinian people and the nascent Palestinian Authority. The PLO, which constitutes the key pillar of the current Palestinian Authority, accepts Israel's right to exist and has renounced terrorism. You were there in the room when I had these discussions with numerous Palestinian Authority leaders who all reaffirmed these points. So, we really have no problem with the Palestinian Authority. But let's be frank about it; the situation in Gaza is far more problematic, and the people that we spoke to, and we engaged in Ramallah have tenuous, or in fact, almost zero, input into the situation in Gaza. Nevertheless, let us be helpful. Let us be constructive. Let us be consistent. Let’s not engage in performative gestures. Let’s engage in constructive direct assistance to the people of Palestine who need and appreciate our support.


Question 3:


Mr Leong Mun Wai: Thank you, Speaker. I have two questions for the Minister. First question, what is our total official aid given to the Palestinians over the last 10 years? Second question, which is also my written question, has our country made any defence sales, such as weapons or any other material that can cause harm to civilians, to Israel since 7 October 2023? Thank you, Minister.


Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: I don't have the total aid provided to Palestine over the past 10 years. As I said in my earlier answer, we have the S$10 million Enhanced Technical Assistance Package. We have scholarships. I haven't computed the value of the scholarships, but we intend to give more. We have delivered three tranches of humanitarian assistance so far, including deploying the RSAF to airdrop 20 tonnes of aid to Gaza in March. We are contemplating a fourth tranche. I should also say that with regard to fundraising from Singaporeans, and I want to give a special shout out to Rahmatan Lil Alamin Foundation. We have collectively raised at least $15.5 million so far. So I'm giving you figures which, are all within less than one calendar year. You can submit a separate question for the total amount over 10 years. Now, let me deal with your question on arms, which I will give a very careful and proper answer. Singapore complies strictly with our 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, which is a public record you can access for yourself. Apart from this, it is the established policy of the Government not to publicly divulge any details of defence sales for national security reasons.


Question 4:


Ms Mariam Jaafar: Sir, I thank the Minister for his response on the considerations for when we would recognise Palestinian statehood. I also thank the Government for the very tangible things they are doing to actually prepare the Palestinian Authority for statehood. Can the Minister share more on any diplomatic efforts that we are currently taking with international and regional bodies such as the UN, where a vote has been taken in favour of Palestinian membership, or the EU, out of which 10 out of 27 states now formally recognise Palestine, and ASEAN, to facilitate the realisation of the Palestinian state, a two-state solution, and to secure the legal and diplomatic rights of Palestine after this conflict is over?


Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: I thank the Member for the question. We are trying our best bilaterally, on the basis of our relationship with Israel, with Middle Eastern stakeholders, as well as ASEAN and other partners around the world. But I want to emphasise that we are not the determining factor. This is a long-standing conflict. I honestly don't know how and when it will end, and my focus is not to add fuel to the fire. My focus is to be quietly, discreetly, constructively helpful to the people at the humanitarian level and to build up capacity with the Palestinian Authority.


Question 5:


Mr Gerald Giam: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I'll be brief and respond to Minister's answer to my SQ just now. I think we are dealing with a Catch-22 situation here. Most people will agree that an effective Palestinian government governs the entire territory is still in the works. However, if we are waiting for a viable and effective Palestinian state to exist before recognizing it, it may never happen in under current realities. Minister said that one key principle guiding our actions is whether it can bring forward the peace process. Therefore, does the Minister agree that Singapore's recognition of Palestine will help, even in some small way, to bring forward the peace process and negotiations, or will it hurt the process?


Dr Vivian Balakrishnan: I know Mr Giam is sincere in this. I would point out that even in your question, there are two different dimensions to it. One, is there an effective Palestinian leadership that speaks for all and that has the mandate to negotiate? That is a separate question from having a recognisable Palestinian state. Without locking ourselves in prematurely, which may be unhelpful, I'm saying that our longstanding position is only a negotiated, two-state solution will lead to a just, durable and comprehensive peace. Both sides must recognise the other’s right to exist and renounce terrorism. Without those prerequisites, never mind the diplomatic and legal niceties, these cycles of violence will recur, and there will be paroxysms of wars, conflicts and horrendous humanitarian disasters, which we are witnessing now. So I hope I've explained to everyone here, including the people of Singapore, about the principled position and the motivations behind our position. That is why we do not engage in polemic or in performative gestures or making premature pronouncements, which, frankly, would be unhelpful. Singapore is also a tiny city state far away. You've been there, you know the difficulty and complexities of that conflict. Another worthwhile reminder for all of us in Singapore is that this is fundamentally not our quarrel. This is a family quarrel, in another family. The worst thing you can do in a family quarrel is to get involved unnecessarily or with ulterior motives or to perform for an external audience. So let's remain calm. Let's remain united. Let's remain constructive and helpful, and hope, even in this time of deep darkness, that peace will be given a chance in Palestine. And that our Israeli friends and their Palestinian brothers can live in peace with each other. For those of you who've accompanied me on my trips, I hope you've noticed that we have an unusual and unique privilege that we are welcomed by all sides. And if you think about that, that's not something you can take for granted. To be able to be welcomed by all sides, including warring parties, requires a track record of principled, deliberate, careful diplomacy. It doesn't mean agreeing with everyone all the time. But even when we disagree with another person’s programs or agenda, they understand why we disagree, and they know that we mean well. That is the attitude in which the Government of Singapore approaches this most vexing of disputes which has gone on for far too long. So finally, let me again reiterate our call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the immediate release of all hostages.


.     .     .     .     .





2 JULY 2024

Travel Page