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February 04, 2013

Minister Shanmugam replies to MP Pritam Singh's remarks on Singapore’s Abstention from the UN Vote to Upgrade Palestine’s Membership to Non-Member Observer State, 4 February 2013

ST ParliamentST File Photo

MR PRITAM SINGH (ALJUNIED GRC): I refer to the Minister’s reply to my Parliamentary Question on the 14th of January 2013 pertaining to Singapore’s decision to abstain from the successfully passed UN resolution to elevate Palestine’s status at the United Nations to a non-member observer State.

This oral question was not answered by Question-and-Answer time during the last sitting and was responded to in written form in accordance with parliamentary procedure. I have therefore sought the leave of Speaker to respond to the Foreign Minister’s reply, in which the Minister requests for some clarifications in accordance with Parliamentary Standing Order Number 25.

While it could be debateable whether a change in Singapore’s voting position would make us more secure, my initial concern when news of Singapore’s abstentation came through, was our decision would indeed have made us more vulnerable, I beg your pardon, would have made us more insecure and vulnerable to terrorist threats.

Singapore’s decision to abstain was in marked contrast to all other ASEAN member states and an overwhelming number of UN member states which voted in favour of the resolution. It is noteworthy that many of these countries, like Singapore, have also established UNSC Resolution 242 to be the basis of a viable and long-term solution to the Israel-Palestine issue, and yet, without contradiction, voted in favour to elevate Palestine’s status at the UN to that of a non-member observer.

I recall in early December 2012, first SMS Masagos and then Prime Minister Lee sought to explain Singapore’s decision to abstain via Facebook, after the event, because of queries on the matter.

This was reflective of the public interest in the issue, given that a central pillar of Singapore’s foreign policy operates within a Southeast Asian situation, which hosts a large Muslim population.

Nonetheless, in the aftermath of the resolution, it is encouraging to note that the government made it a point to state that Singapore has voted in favour of 18 out of 19 resolutions tabled at the United Nations General Assembly on Palestinian issues since 2008. However, each resolution carries with it a unique foreign policy signature. The resolution on Palestine’s elevation is a case in point.

Even though Singapore had voted for resolutions in Palestine’s favour previously, our decision to abstain is more likely to be remembered than our previous voting patterns because of the weight and international profile of the resolution to elevate Palestine’s international status. In fact, Singapore’s even-handed position, sharing the desires of the Palestinians for an independent state, and that of Israel for its security, may have been misunderstood by some Singaporeans in favour of the latter, because of our abstentation. To that end, the Foreign Minister’s parliamentary answer to my question stating that Singapore does not support Israel’s activities that contravene international law, including its settlement activities in the Occupied Territories is welcomed, as is its communication of this position to Israeli representatives in bilateral meetings. It is equally noteworthy that Singapore sees both sides as having legitimate rights and shared responsibilities.

The weight of this statement is significant because it counters the perception that Singapore is pro-Israel but rather, pro-peace. It also reduces my own concern that Singapore’s decision to abstain made us insecure. In future, it would be propitious for the Foreign Ministry to consider profiling Singapore’s stance on Palestinian issues and other controversial issues in the front and centre not only to solicit public feedback but before the public raises concerns on the matter lest our position be misunderstood, especially in view of our immediate geopolitical realities. This approach is likely to secure greater consensus for our foreign policy and the realities that determine it for after all, foreign policy is an extension of domestic politics. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

SPEAKER: Minister for Law.

MINISTER: Thank you Madam Speaker, in my capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

SPEAKER: Aye, aye.

MINISTER: I thank the honourable Member for accepting that our position is even-handed, welcoming it and recognising it as pro-peace. As I have stated before, if the honourable Member believes that our voting position should change, he can let us know and we will give his views serious consideration. I also thank him for his suggestion that our position on this issue be profiled. We have been setting out our position publicly, regularly including in Parliament. We will continue to do so and see how we can follow up on his suggestions to further profile our foreign policy issues. Thank you.


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