Singapore hopes both Israel and Palestine can resume direct negotiations and make progress on a "just and durable solution" to their longstanding conflict, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
"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.
He 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 yesterday for a two-day visit and, after a ceremonial welcome, called on President Tony Tan Keng Yam. He also met PM Lee and they 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 South-east Asia, what happens there has an impact on and concerns Singapore.
Many around the world are seized with the Israel-Palestine issue, 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 made clear Singapore's stand on a two-state solution when he met Mr Netanyahu in Israel last year. "It is still our view," he said.
During their meeting yesterday, Mr Lee also reiterated Singapore's support for Israel's right to live within secure borders and in peace, and also the right of the Palestinian people to a homeland.
"Both sides should exercise restraint and be prepared to make compromises in order to achieve a lasting peace," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
Mr Lee also noted that Israel was one of Singapore's oldest friends, having responded to its request for help to build up an armed forces in the early years after Singapore's independence in 1965, "for which we will always be grateful".
Ties have expanded, and both men said there was room for more cooperation, which now includes research and development, technical cooperation and education.
Mr Netanyahu said: "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."
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 said.
One area in which Israel is keen to learn from Singapore is its public housing system, added Mr Netanyahu, who will visit Toa Payoh today.
"We find this relationship particularly productive and valuable to ensure security and prosperity for our peoples in the future," he added.
PM Lee hosted an official dinner for Mr Netanyahu, and said in a speech that Singapore was fortunate to have enjoyed peace with its neighbours since independence, and this had enabled it to grow and prosper. "It is in this spirit that Singapore wishes for peace in the Middle East," Mr Lee said.
A peace settlement seems a long way off, but Singapore hopes it will be achieved one day, he added.
Mr Netanyahu said he was committed to peace, and the people of Israel yearn for it. "I sense a great change in the Arab world and many Arab countries," he said, adding that he hoped "to be able to use that newfound attitude towards Israel to help us solve the Palestinian- Israeli conflict as well."
He said Israel was also pivoting to Asia in a "very clear and purposeful way", and Singapore was perfectly poised between China, which he will visit next month, and India.
"As a gateway to Asia, Singapore is our perfect partner," he added.
Mr Netanyahu, who was accompanied by his wife Sara and senior officials, also met Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and several Cabinet ministers over lunch. He leaves for Australia later today.