TRANSCRIPT OF MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS DR VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN’S ORAL REPLY TO PARLIAMENTARY QUESTION, 9 JANUARY 2018
Mr Vikram Nair: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs whether he can explain Singapore’s vote in favour of the recent United Nations General Assembly resolution of the 10th Emergency Special Session (ESS) on 21 December 2017 on the Status of Jerusalem which indirectly criticised the US’ decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
1 Mr Deputy Speaker Sir, Singapore voted in favour of the recent United Nations General Assembly resolution at the 10th Emergency Special Session on the Status of Jerusalem. Our vote in favour of this resolution is consistent with our longstanding position on the unfortunately long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our position over the years has been based on the principle of seeking peaceful resolution of conflicts by upholding international law and abiding fully with United Nations Security Council resolutions.
2 Jerusalem is a unique city. It has profound religious significance for Muslims, Jews and Christians. The status of Jerusalem is a very complex and sensitive issue with a very long history, fraught with political and religious dimensions, and the special circumstances of Jerusalem have been addressed by numerous United Nations resolutions, with the most recent instance being the resolution that was voted upon on 21 December 2017. In fact, an almost identical resolution was considered by the UN Security Council a week earlier on 18 December 2017. At that UN Security Council session, fourteen of the fifteen members of the Security Council voted in favour of the resolution, and the US was the sole member to vote against and ultimately to cast a veto against the resolution. And that is why the resolution then came to the General Assembly.
3 The resolution in the General Assembly reaffirms previous UN resolutions and in particular rejected any decisions or actions which purport to alter the character and the status of Jerusalem, and the same resolution calls on all States to comply with the existing UN Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem.
4 Singapore’s position on this has been consistent. We do not take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our objective has always been to support a peaceful resolution to this conflict. We have been a steadfast advocate of a negotiated two-state solution, with Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security. Accordingly, the future status of Jerusalem should be determined through direct negotiations between both sides and any unilateral and premature action that might alter the status of Jerusalem would only serve to further destabilise the region. It would impede progress towards a just and durable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
5 Our vote on the recent resolution is therefore consistent with this policy position. It has at its foundation, a key principle of Singapore’s foreign policy, which is the promotion of a rules-based global community governed by the rule of international law, and always seeking peaceful resolution of disputes. It is also in this context that Singapore has always strictly abided by all UN Security Council resolutions. Indeed the UN Security Council Resolution 478 (1980) specifically calls on all UN Member States not to take any action that purport to alter the character and status of Jerusalem.
6 Singapore’s position on this issue is well known and our vote at the various UN resolutions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been guided by this same principle, regardless of the positions of others. Although other states, including bigger powers, may occasionally differ or disagree with certain positions that we take, we maintain the consistent application of this principle. This ability to maintain consistency over the long term has enabled us to be taken seriously and to be regarded as a reliable partner who can play a constructive role in international affairs. Indeed, Singapore remains a steadfast partner of the US, of Israel and of the Palestinian people. Our longstanding bilateral relations with all countries are strong and multifaceted, and our shared interests far exceed the differences. At the same time, this gives us access and a strong relationship based on trust with the Palestinians and indeed with the Middle East as a whole.
7 Mr Speaker Sir, Singapore’s vote in favour of the United Nations General Assembly resolution on the 21 December 2017 was actually a vote for peace and stability. As a small country with a multi-racial and multi-religious population, Singapore, of all countries, fully appreciates that tolerance and the peaceful resolution of disputes are vital for social harmony, for our success as a nation, and indeed for world peace. We therefore hope that the parties involved will work towards a resumption of direct peace negotiations. This can only be achieved when both sides approach these longstanding sensitive issues in a spirit of good faith and appreciation of each other’s beliefs, values, aspirations, hopes and anxieties.
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TRANSCRIPT OF MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS DR VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN’S ORAL REPLIES TO SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTIONS, 9 JANUARY 2018
Mr Vikram Nair: Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker. Just two supplementary questions. First, was there a reason Singapore chose to vote in favour of the resolution rather than, say, abstain, because that is clearly taking a position on the matter? And second, Singapore has always advocated a two-state solution and a change in the status of Jerusalem, I believe the Minister is implying, would make that more difficult. What steps has Singapore taken to facilitate the two-state solution given its strong relationships with both sides?
1 Thank you for those two questions. I think, on your first question, when you are faced with a resolution there is always a choice. You can vote in favour, you can abstain, or you could vote against. In fact, there is a fourth choice, which is to be absent, but I think members of this House will know that that is not Singapore’s style. When we are confronted with a question, we face it head-on and we make what we believe is an appropriate choice that is consistent with our position, our policies and our values. So we looked very carefully at this resolution, and as I explained earlier, the real problem or the catalyst for this current resolution – and I am going to say so without naming names, and without identifying countries – but what really precipitated this was an announcement. An announcement which could be construed as changing the status quo and hence, in our view, would be a unilateral and premature pronouncement, which instead of helping peace, would actually impede the peace process. So that is why after very careful consideration and consultation, we decided to stand by our principles and say we do not think this is a good idea and therefore we are voting in favour of the resolution. It is a principled position because we are actually not taking sides. We are not saying one party or the other, or its supporters are right or wrong.
2 This relates to your second question. Singapore is not a superpower. We are not a regional power and we are not a key player in the Middle East. Our approach – I would look at it at two levels. First, we do want to be friends with everyone, but we want to be not just fair weather friends; we want to be long-term, reliable, principled friends. Now, for that kind of relationship to occur, and you have two parties who have been fighting for thousands of years, you can imagine that it is a very difficult role to play. Nevertheless, because both the Israelis as well as the Palestinians, and the Arab and all the other countries in the Middle East know that Singapore does not take sides, they know that we do not bend for the sake of pressure or inducements, and that we genuinely stand for peace and for development.
3 So that gives us special access. I felt this special access when in April 2016, Prime Minister Lee made the first visit as the incumbent Prime Minister of Singapore to both Jordan and Israel. And amongst various parts of the trip, I think the most significant was when we had a chance to go up to Temple Mount or in the Arabic, Al-Haram Al-Sharif, where the Dome of the Rock is, where the Al-Aqsa Mosque is. And at the risk of being long-winded, let me tell you my sentiments as the Prime Minister and our delegation including Masagos and – I think Rahayu went along with us. Intan, was it? Yes, Intan. I remember, the first sense I felt was a sense of awe. Whether or not you are religious, when you visit Jerusalem and you go to those sites, you cannot help but feel that this is a special place, a sacred place: a place where Heaven and Earth seem to come to a confluence. That's the first sense.
4 My second sense was gratitude for being a Singaporean. Because here we were, accompanied by security from both the Israelis and the Jordanians, and they gave us full access. Minister Masagos even had a chance to pray in the cave beneath the Dome of the Rock. They gave us full access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and we are non-Muslims. But everyone knew, we were from Singapore, and this was a multi-religious, multi-racial group. We were welcomed and protected by both parties. That sense of gratitude, that sense of special access – you know people talk about the Singapore passport being very powerful. It is not really about the passport, but the fact that the world welcomes and trusts us.
5 The third sentiment I felt during that trip was sadness as I thought about the thousands of lives that had been lost, and the blood that had been shed on that hill in the name of race, language and religion. It made me more determined than before to appreciate what we have in Singapore; that when we say we believe in peaceful resolution and we believe in direct, honest negotiations, and that we believe in living side-by-side even to the point where we need an ethnic integration policy. We are not just prescribing to the world, we are a living, real example of multi-racial, multi-religious peace. When we say to live side-by-side in peace and security, we are a working vision, a working example of that future.
6 So that, in a sense, in an anecdotal way, what informs our attitude to this issue. So on any particular resolution, and there have been lots of UN resolutions on this, I will not be able to tell you a priori whether we are going to abstain or vote against, or for. But I am sharing with you the principles behind which we will interpret the resolution, and then we will vote accordingly. From time to time we will have to take a different position from friends and supporters, but I am confident that they know Singapore and Singaporeans well. They know that we do not grandstand, we do not take political postures for the sake of posturing. But we do so in all sincerity as a reflection of who we are. As a multi-religious society and our long-standing friendship, support, and advocacy for peace in the Middle East. That in a nutshell is about all that we can do. We are not a superpower. Thank you.
Assistant Professor Mahdev Mohan: Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank the Minister for his very detailed and heartfelt response to Mr Nair’s questions. The vote by Singapore was not only an enlightened one, it was fully in accordance with international law and the rule of international law. My only question is, at the time when the vote was cast, were there efforts for ASEAN to speak with one voice at that vote? I ask this question because I noticed that both Myanmar and Philippines abstained from the vote.
1 The short answer is that no, there was no time and no opportunity to cobble together a consolidated ASEAN position. But having said that, I am not even sure that that would have been ideal. As I said, this was a very sensitive and delicate situation, and I think every country had to take a position based on its own analysis of its own national interests. So this was not an occasion to try to corral or to put pressure on the individual members of ASEAN. And there will be, and I say this in full cognisance that there will be I am sure, future situations and future resolutions, where it may be even harder for us to get together and to settle on a common position, so I would not, a priori, aim to do that and I don’t view that, therefore, as a setback – that a couple of ASEAN Member States abstained, and that all the rest of us voted in favour.
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MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
9 JANUARY 2018