SINGAPORE — The Israel-Hamas war is a reminder for Singapore that it has national interests at stake, said Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan as he spelt out the principles underpinning the Government’s position on what he described as an “unfolding tragedy”.
Speaking in Parliament on Monday (Nov 6), Dr Balakrishnan said that as human beings, Singaporeans cannot remain “detached and inured” to the human suffering resulting from the latest conflict in the Middle East.
In a half-hour-long speech responding to a motion about the conflict filed by three Members of Parliament, Dr Balakrishnan outlined the seven principles that underpinned Singapore’s position, which has consistently stated that a two-state solution is the only viable option to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict, as seen by the Republic’s past voting record in the United Nations (UN).
On Oct 27 this year, Singapore voted at the UN General Assembly for a humanitarian truce so that immediate and sustained humanitarian provision of essential supplies and services to civilians throughout the Gaza Strip can be provided.
“We do care, and we do care deeply,” he said, as he laid out these principles that include its zero-tolerance approach towards terrorism — which continues to present a threat to Singapore — and the need to abide by the principle of necessity and proportionality in exercising one’s right of self-defence.
“We must never allow conflicts elsewhere to divide us domestically… Our ability to conduct consistent and coherent foreign policy in a very volatile and dangerous world depends on domestic cohesion and consensus,” said Dr Balakrishnan.
SINGAPORE’S PRINCIPLES ON THE ISRAEL-HAMAS CONFLICT
1. Zero tolerance approach towards terrorism
Singapore categorically rejects terrorism not solely out of sympathy for victims overseas but also because it is a clear and present threat to the RepublicHamas’ actions on Oct 7 of “indiscriminate killing, torture and kidnapping of innocent civilians” are acts of terror, said Dr BalakrishnanHamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, is listed as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union, among others
2. Legitimate and inherent right to defend themselves
This right, as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter, is “very important” for Singapore because if the nation is attacked, it will “certainly assert and exercise” this right, said Dr BalakrishnanThe attacks by Hamas have “deeply shaken” Israelis’ sense of security, and the latter has responded by launching an intensive bombardment and ground operations to destroy Hamas’ military capacity, said the minister
3. Principles of necessity and proportionality in exercising right of self-defence
Dr Balakrishnan said that the principles of necessity and proportionality, along with the laws of war, must be abided by all countries if they take military action in exercising the right of self-defenceAlleged violation of international humanitarian law should be investigated in accordance with international law, he addedDr Balakrishnan also quoted a commentary in the Financial Times by a group of distinguished Jewish jurists, who said that holding civilians in Gaza under siege and depriving them of basic necessities is a grave violation of international lawThey argued that “collective punishment” is prohibited by the laws of war, and that combatants need to ensure minimum destruction to civilian life and infrastructureIsrael has imposed a blockade on Gaza since 2007 after Hamas came to power in the Palestinian Territory. On Oct 9, Israel announced a “total” blockade on the strip following the Hamas attacks
4. Immediate humanitarian assistance to civilian population needed
Singapore has called on all parties — particularly Israel and Egypt, which share immediate borders with Gaza — to enable assistance to reach civilians immediatelySingapore also supports efforts by the UN and other organisations, including contributing seed funding of S$300,000 to the Singapore Red Cross, while Singaporeans have donated nearly S$5 million to fundraising drives
5. A negotiated two-state solution is the only viable solution
Singapore has remained consistent in its position that the only viable solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a negotiated two-state solution, in which Israel must accept a Palestinian state, and Palestinians must accept Israel’s right to existThis is reflected in Singapore’s voting record at the UN over the decades, including resolutions that reject Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank, said Dr Balakrishnan“We have expressed our firm opposition to violations of international law and to unilateral measures which imperil the prospects for peace,” said Dr BalakrishnanHe added that unfortunately, the peace process has been scuppered and the “rise of the radical hard right extremists in both societies” has made a peaceful political settlement almost impossibleFor example, then Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli extremist, while the more radical Hamas grabbed power from FatahSingapore has been engaging the Palestinian Authority and supported their capacity-building efforts, and will continue to do so, said Dr Balakrishnan
6. External events must not divide Singaporeans
While Singaporeans feel deeply for civilian suffering on both sides, strong emotions have led to hate speech and violent clashes overseas, partially fuelled by disinformationNoting that the local Muslim community in particular has responded in a restrained and responsible manner in concert with other communities to raise funds for humanitarian aid, Dr Balakrishnan emphasised that the conflict is not a religious conflictInstead, the Israel-Hamas conflict has always been about territory, self-determination and identity, which has been complicated by intra-Israeli and intra-Palestinian politicsSingapore must not fall into such traps where extremists on any side misuse religion to further their political aims, he said
7. Ensuring the safety of Singaporeans abroad
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has advised Singaporeans to leave Israel and the Palestinian Territories following the Oct 7 Hamas attacksWhile over 120 Singaporeans who had registered with MFA have since left Israel, around 40 Singaporeans still remain in Israel and the Palestinian Territories presentlyThe MFA remains in contact with those who chose to remainDr Balakrishnan also thanked the governments of Australia, Canada, Portugal, and South Korea for helping Singaporeans leave Israel safely
Rounding up his speech, Dr Balakrishnan reiterated that the episode is a reminder that Singapore does have national interests at stake in the conflict.
“We must reject terrorism in all its forms. No excuses, no ifs or buts, no short-term political advantage — reject terrorism,” he said. “If attacked, all of us here must give the Government of the day the ability to exercise the right of self-defence.”
“But even when it does, we will expect the Government of the day to uphold international law,” he added.
“And as Singaporeans, we will continue to extend humanitarian assistance and protection to all civilians. We should support peaceful resolution of disputes. And we must nurture and protect our own precious cohesion and harmony.”