Singapore 2025

What of Singapore towards 2025? Thoughts of a Singaporean.

Parliamentary Question on Palestine

I was asked by the Straits Times if I had a response to Foreign Minister (FM) K. Shanmugam’s parliamentary reply as to  whether a change in Singapore’s voting position would make us more or less vulnerable to terrorism. My full reply to the ST was as follows:

I refer to the FM’s reply to my parliamentary question on Singapore’s decision to abstain from the successfully passed UN resolution to elevate Palestine’s status at the UN to a non-member observer state.

It noteworthy that SMS Masagoes and PM Lee sought to explain Singapore’s decision to abstain via facebook in early December 2012, after the event, because of queries on the matter. (https://www.facebook.com/leehsienloong/posts/415643768502114)

This is reflective of the public interest in the issue, given that a central pillar of Singapore’s foreign policy operates within a Southeast Asian situation, which hosts a large Muslim population.

While it is debatable whether a change in Singapore’s voting position would make us more secure, Singapore’s decision to abstain was in marked contrast to all other ASEAN member states, and an overwhelming number of UN member states, which voted in favour of the resolution. It is noteworthy that many of these countries, like Singapore, have also established UNSC Resolution 242 to be the basis of a viable, long-term solution to the Israel-Palestine issue, and yet, without contradiction, voted in favour to elevate Palestine’s status at the UN to that of a non-member observer.

Nonetheless, it is encouraging to note that Singapore has voted in favour of 18 out of 19 resolutions tabled at the UNGA on Palestinian issues since 2008. However, each resolution carries with it a unique foreign policy signature. The resolution on Palestine’s elevation is a case in point.

Singapore’s even-handed position, “sharing the desires of the Palestinians for an independent state, and that of Israel for its security”, may have been misunderstood by some Singaporeans in favour of the latter, because of our abstentation. To that end, the FM’s parliamentary answer stating that Singapore does not support Israel’s activities that contravene international law, including its settlement activities in the Occupied Territories is welcomed, as is its communication of this position to Israeli representatives in bilateral meetings. It is equally noteworthy that Singapore sees both sides as having legitimate rights and shared responsibilities.

As a small state that must operate adroitly in the foreign policy arena, Singapore has done well by adopting a pragmatic and principled approach in foreign policy affairs. In the ‘new normal’ however, what the Foreign Ministry can consider, is more effective public communication with Singaporeans with respect to our international positions on key issues, particularly those are directly or indirectly relevant to our Southeast Asian situation, and selected international issues. This approach is likely to secure greater consensus from the public for our foreign policy and the realities the determine it.  

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Useful Links

General Assembly votes overwhelmingly to accord Palestine ‘non-member observer state’ status in United Nations. http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2012/ga11317.doc.htm

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43640#.UPXkmo45dUQ

EU backs Palestinian state even if split on UN vote

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_world/view/1240220/1/.html

The Observer State of Palestine. http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/israel-s-pyrrhic-victory-over-palestine-by-ian-buruma

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone shake hands at the Vatican Monday 17 December 2012.The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas has met with Pope Benedict XVI to thank him for supporting the recent U.N. resolution recognizing a Palestinian state. http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/14412

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone shake hands at the Vatican Monday 17 December 2012.The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas has met with Pope Benedict XVI to thank him for supporting the recent U.N. resolution recognizing a Palestinian state. http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/14412

ABSTENTION FROM UN RESOLUTION ON PALESTINE

*45. Mr Pritam Singh: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) whether Singapore’s decision to abstain on the successfully passed United Nations (UN) resolution to elevate Palestine’s status at the UN into a non-member observer state, increases Singapore’s vulnerability to terrorists sympathetic to the Palestinian cause; and (b) whether his Ministry will consider voting in concert with the majority of ASEAN members on Palestine-specific issues at the UN in future, so as to speak with one ASEAN voice on the matter.

*46. Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs (a) what is Singapore’s position on the Palestine Reform and Development Plan Trust Fund; and (b) whether Singapore intends to make a contribution to this international multi-donor fund for the humanitarian development and reconstruction of Palestine.

Mr K Shanmugam:

There are two questions related to Palestine and I will take them together.

With reference to Mr Pritam Singh’s question, Singapore’s position on the UN resolution has not made us neither more nor less vulnerable to terrorism. If we had a different position on this issue it would not have reduced the threat to us either. Singapore continues to be vigilant because the threat of terrorism to Singapore, regardless of our voting position on this or other issues remains a constant challenge.  Honourable Members will recall that we faced a serious threat from Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in 2001, the radical group linked to Al Qaeda.  The JI’s aim was, and remains, the forcible imposition of a pan-Islamic caliphate in Southeast Asia.

The Honourable Member can let the House know whether he believes that a change in our voting position will make us more secure, and I will take serious note if indeed those are his views.

Let me also take this opportunity to make Singapore’s position on Palestine clear.  Singapore supports the right of the Palestinian people to a homeland.  Singapore issued a statement welcoming the proclamation of a Palestinian state in 1988.  Apart from the resolution on Palestine’s Observer State status, there are approximately 19 resolutions on various Palestinian-related issues tabled each year at the UN General Assembly.  Singapore has consistently voted in favour of all of them.

However, Singapore abstained on the Non-Member Observer State resolution because we believe that only a negotiated settlement consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 242 can provide the basis for a viable, long term solution.  Both Israel and Palestine have legitimate rights and shared responsibilities.  They must both be prepared to make compromises in order to achieve a lasting peace.  We believe that any unilateral actions, be it by Israel or Palestine, to force a settlement of the issue will hinder rather than facilitate the peace process.

We have already seen how such unilateral actions could lead to unintended results. For example, when UNESCO voted to admit Palestine as a member in 2011, the US cut its funding to the organisation.  As a result, UNESCO has had to cut back on some of its programmes, given that US funding makes up 22% of its budget.  We cannot dismiss the possibility that other organisations to which Palestine is also seeking membership could suffer similar results.  Whatever the motivation, such unilateral actions would only politicise these organisations and hinder their primary missions.  Similarly, we also do not support Israel’s activities that contravene international law, including its settlement activities in the Occupied Territories.  We have voted as such at the UN and also made our views known to our Israeli counterparts in bilateral meetings.

If Mr Singh believes that we should change our voting stance in any way, in respect of the Palestinian issue, taking into account the answer I have given, and Singapore’s broader economic and security interests, including our economic and security relationships with our neighbours, the US, Israel and, (interalia) the Arab countries, again he can let us know clearly. We will take careful note of his views when we consider this issue again.

Mr Singh has also asked about ASEAN. Given the increasing complexity of global challenges, ASEAN Member States have sought to enhance their coordination on global issues of common interest.  However, ASEAN is not the European Union. ASEAN does not have a common foreign and security policy that binds all Member States.  Nor has there been any suggestion in ASEAN circles that we are obliged to take a common position on all issues. It would be impractical, indeed impossible, in light of our diversity. Each ASEAN Member State continues to make its own foreign policy, based on its national interests. In the ASEAN way, the ten consult on issues. If there is consensus, then we act in unison; if there is no consensus we act nationally.

ASEAN has expressed concern about the Palestinian-Israeli situation. When the most recent conflict broke out, the Chairman’s Statement of the 21st ASEAN Summit included a call from ASEAN Leaders to all parties to return to the negotiation table and resolve the conflict in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions. However, ASEAN Member States continue to have different views on the best way to achieve peace.  As stated earlier, Singapore believes that only a negotiated settlement consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 242 can provide the basis for a viable, long-term solution.

In summary, Singapore’s position on the issue of Palestinian statehood is based on certain principles and international law.  As with all resolutions tabled at the UN, Singapore will vote based on our national interests as an independent and sovereign nation, regardless of the position of others.  Our position on this issue is well known to all parties and has not affected our close ties with our ASEAN neighbours.

Moving on to Mr Muhamad Faisal’s question, Singapore has been contributing to Palestine’s development primarily through technical assistance under the Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP).  We have been training Palestinian officials in areas that Singapore is strong in, such as public administration and urban planning. We believe this is the best way for us to make a difference to Palestine’s development.  We have also a S$1 million technical assistance package for Palestine as well as post-graduate scholarships to Palestinian officials. We will continue to provide technical assistance to Palestine in areas most relevant and impactful to their development.

Singapore welcomes efforts by the international community to contribute to the humanitarian development and reconstruction of Palestine.  We no have current plans to donate to the World Bank’s Palestine Reform and Development Plan Trust Fund.  We have contributed in our own ways as I explained earlier.

Singapore has also made voluntary monetary contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  We have also contributed to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in response to the UN agencies’ joint-appeal for funds following the 2009 Gaza conflict.

Ends.

Written by singapore 2025

15/01/2013 at 11:50 pm

Posted in Democracy, Parliament

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