Singapore hopes Israel, Palestine will resume talks for a two-state solution: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) and Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu delivering a joint statement in Jerusalem on April 19, 2016.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) and Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu delivering a joint statement in Jerusalem on April 19, 2016. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

JERUSALEM - Singapore hopes the Israelis and Palestinians can restart talks for a two-state solution, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday.

"We are friends with both Israel and Palestine. We hope that you will be able to resume negotiations and make progress towards a just and durable solution to a longstanding and complex conflict," he said in a short speech.

"We hope to see a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security one day."

He was speaking at an official ceremony at the Israeli Prime Minister's Office where he was welcomed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Lee said Singapore is concerned about developments in the Middle East, including the Israeli-Palestinian problem and their peace process.

World leaders have maintained that a two-state solution is the only viable resolution to the conflict, and recently expressed concerns over the lack of progress.

This week, United States Vice-President Joe Biden criticised both sides for obstructing the peace process.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also warned that such a solution seemed more distant, citing a surge in violence triggered by individual terror attacks as well as Israel's expansion of settlements.

On Monday, a bus bombing in Jerusalem injured about 20 civilians. Singapore condemned the attack, saying it was "confident that the authorities will bring those responsible for this act of terror to justice swiftly".

Mr Netanyahu said he appreciated Singapore's "swift and unequivocal" condemnation of the attack.

On Tuesday, Mr Lee - the first sitting prime minister to visit Israel - also spoke of Singapore's long and deep relationship with Israel, starting with its help in building the Singapore Armed Forces.

The Prime Minister noted he last visited Israel in 1977. He was a young army officer accompanying then-chief of general staff Winston Choo, who is now Singapore's Ambassador to Israel.

Mr Lee said he was glad he could return after the long years, to thank Israel personally, see developments for himself, and exchange views on the region and security issues.

During their meeting, both PMs agreed to intensify cooperation, particularly in the area of cybersecurity. They also welcomed the signing of an agreement between officials of both countries, to jointly provide technical assistance and training to developing countries, Mr Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin said.

Both men also encouraged Israeli and Singaporean entrepreneurs and businesses to enhance collaboration and explore investment opportunities, Ms Chang added.

On Monday, Mr Lee witnessed the signing of agreements between Jerusalem's Hebrew University and Singapore's National Research Foundation to expand cooperation in research and development, as well as between the university and the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University.

Israel, Mr Lee added, is the second largest contributor of foreign direct investment in Singapore from the Middle East, and Singapore hopes to learn more from its technical prowess and ecosystem.

"You have the highest number of scientists, technologists and engineers per capita in the world, and the third-highest number of patents per capita," he said.

"Many Singaporean firms are interested in doing business with you and investing in Israel, as some have already done."

Mr Netanyahu,speaking before Mr Lee, said the visit reflected a "coming of age" between the two countries, which he said were "both small nations that leave a very large imprint on the world scene" and anchors of stability in their respective regions.

Israel and Singapore are working together in areas from water management to biotechnology, he noted, adding that "innovation and technology are key to seizing the future".

Mr Netanyahu also said he greatly admired the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, "one of the great statesmen of the 20th century who laid solid foundations for your country, but also who taught many of us the idea of economic vision and enterprise that was put to test, and is now the great success that Singapore is."

zakirh@sph.com.sg