Palestinians and Israelis 'must find way to peace': PM Lee

PM Lee meeting National University of Singapore students based in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Wednesday. Also at the meeting was Minister of State for Communications and Information and Education Janil Puthucheary (third from left). PM Lee's week-long visit
PM Lee meeting National University of Singapore students based in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Wednesday. Also at the meeting was Minister of State for Communications and Information and Education Janil Puthucheary (third from left). PM Lee's week-long visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories has enabled Singapore to renew its friendship with three important partners in the Middle East.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Path is tough but both sides need to work on two-state solution, says PM Lee at end of Mid-East trip

After a week-long trip, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday night that he has a better feel of the arduous journey towards peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He acknowledged that making headway will not be easy.

But it is necessary, he stressed, encouraging both sides to start taking steps, build on them and work towards a deal on a two-state solution.

Both sides see the need to seal the deal, he said.

"The Palestinians are quite clear that they must have a two-state solution and they are pushing for it strongly.

"The Israelis also understand that they have to move towards a two-state solution, because if they don't do that, there's no other alternative that is viable for them.

"But the difficulties in making progress are not simple," he said in an interview with Singapore media at the end of the trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

The need to resume negotiations on a two-state solution was a key theme in Mr Lee's discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, and Palestinian PM Rami Hamdallah on Wednesday.

Confidence in a solution has waned on both sides of late.

Israeli leaders cite Palestinian incitement of violence as a stumbling block to peace, while Palestinian leaders say the continued expansion of Israeli settlements on occupied land is a major obstacle.

The situation is daunting and Mr Lee told reporters the stalled peace process was a case of "if you try to do everything at once, you will fail, because some of the problems are just too hard to solve straightaway".

"It's not just a matter of substance, of what deal can be made, but also of the trust and the mutual confidence that exists, and the goodwill that must be built up over time so that you can make a deal together," he added.

"They understand it and both sides would like to do it, but (are) realising it is hard."

 

Mr Lee's visit also enabled Singapore to renew its friendship with three important partners in the Middle East.

In Israel, he received an honorary doctorate from Hebrew University and witnessed the signing of agreements on research and development collaboration. He also met technology industry leaders, and said he hoped more Israeli companies would find it worthwhile to have a presence in Singapore.

In the Palestinian Territories, he announced a doubling of an enhanced technical aid package to $10 million, and found its government was interested in developing the middle level of its education system - the equivalent of polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). Its Economy Minister Abeer Odeh, who accompanied Mr Lee in Ramallah, had visited Singapore last month and was impressed by the ITE.

Mr Lee said: "So we are inviting them to come, to see how we do it, and we can do a consultancy study with them and identify how perhaps we can help them to get started."

In Jordan, he met King Abdullah II and its PM Abdullah Ensour, with discussions centred largely on ways for Jordanian officials to build their capabilities in such areas as water management and nursing.

Mr Lee also exchanged notes on the security situation as some Jordanians have joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). "They worry about the impact of Daesh not just in the region but wider," he said, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

"Between governments and security agencies, we quietly exchange information and deal with the problem. We have been reasonably effective in Singapore and we have benefited from information and intelligence sharing with partner agencies, counterparts and other countries," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2016, with the headline 'Palestinians and Israelis 'must find way to peace''. Print Edition | Subscribe