SINGAPORE - Singapore hopes both Israel and Palestine can resume direct negotiations and make progress on a "just and durable solution" to their conflict, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday (Feb 20).
"We have consistently believed that a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, however hard to achieve, is the only way to bring peace and security to both peoples and to the Middle East," he said.
PM Lee was reiterating Singapore's longstanding position on the Middle East peace process at a joint press briefing with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after they met at the Istana.
Mr Netanyahu arrived this morning for a two-day visit, and after a ceremonial welcome, called on President Tony Tan Keng Yam. He also met PM Lee and both leaders discussed bilateral cooperation as well as developments in the Middle East.
Mr Lee said he explained to his counterpart that while the Middle East is far from Southeast Asia, what happens there has an impact on and concerns Singapore.
People all over the world are seized with the Israel-Palestine issue, which is an emotional one especially for Muslim communities, he noted.
"Singapore is good friends with Israel and also good friends with the Palestinian National Authority and many Arab countries," he added.
Mr Lee added that he expressed Singapore's stance on the issue and its position on a two-state solution when he met Mr Netanyahu in Israel last year.
"It is still our view. And today when the prime minister updated me on developments and his reasons about being cautiously optimistic about things, I explained Singapore's position again, and expressed my hope for peace between Israel and Palestine, and we hope that will contribute to a stabler Middle East and a stabler world."
Both prime ministers also discussed various areas of cooperation between their two countries, such as economics, research and education.
Mr Lee noted that Israel was one of Singapore's oldest friends, having responded to Singapore's request for help to build up its armed forces when it unexpectedly became independent in 1965. "For which, we will always be grateful," he said.
Since then, ties have expanded and both leaders said there was room for more collaboration between their countries.
Said Mr Netanyahu: "I believe Israel and Singapore are kindred spirits, we are small nations that have become in many areas, global powers, and I believe our cooperation makes us even more successful," said Mr Netanyahu.
Both countries, he added, can bring prosperity, hope and a better life for their peoples and the neighbourhoods in which they live. "We value the diversity in our societies, we value the pluralism in our societies and we have much to learn from each other," he added.
One area that Israel was keen to learn from Singapore was its public housing system, said Mr Netanyahu, who will be visiting Toa Payoh housing estate.
"We'd like to learn from you as we do in many other areas. We find this relationship particularly productive and valuable to ensure security and prosperity for our peoples in the future," he added.
The Israeli leader is accompanied by his wife Sara and senior government officials.
On Monday, he was also hosted to lunch by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
PM Lee will host Mr Netanyahu to dinner at the Istana this evening.
Mr Netanyahu's visit reciprocates PM Lee's visit to Israel last April. His visit is the first by a top Israeli leader since former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was here in 1993 after visiting Jakarta, in the wake of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord that year.
Last year, PM Lee also visited Jordan and the Palestinian Territories on his trip to the Middle East, and he had invited the leaders he met on all three stops to visit Singapore.