SINGAPORE: Singapore voted for “peace and stability” when it backed a United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution that called for the United States to drop its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 9).

The vote is also consistent with Singapore’s longstanding position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is one that is based on the “principle of seeking peaceful resolution of conflict” by upholding international law and fully abiding the UN Security Council’s resolutions.

This is especially so given Singapore’s status as a small country with a multi-racial and multi-religious population, added Dr Balakrishnan. 

With that, Singapore recognises tolerance and peaceful dispute resolutions as “vital” factors for social harmony, its success as a nation and world peace, he said. 

Last December, US President Donald Trump reversed decades of US policy by announcing that Washington recognised Jerusalem – home to major Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites – as the capital of Israel and would move its embassy there. 

The General Assembly vote on Dec 21 was called at the request of Arab and Muslim countries after the US vetoed the same resolution on Dec 18 in the 15-member UN Security Council. 

A total of 128 countries, including Singapore, voted in favour of the resolution on Dec 21 to reject the decision by the US to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Nine voted against and 35 abstained.  

When asked by Member of Parliament (MP) Vikram Nair why Singapore chose to vote in favour rather than abstaining from the vote, Dr Balakrishnan described it as “a principled decision”. 

“What precipitated (the UN resolution) was an announcement which could be construed as changing the status quo and hence in our view, could be unilateral and premature announcement, which instead of helping peace, will actually impede the peace process.” 

“That’s why after careful consideration and consultation, we decided to stand by our principles.” 

Dr Balakrishnan added that Singapore’s position on this long-running dispute between Israel and the Palestinians has been “guided by the same principle, regardless of the positions of the others”. 

“Although other states, including bigger powers, may occasionally differ or disagree with certain positions that we take, we maintain a consistent application of this principle.” 

Nominated MP Mahdev Mohan asked if there were efforts to get Southeast Asian countries to speak with one voice for the UN resolution.

To that, Dr Balakrishnan replied that there was “no time and no opportunity” to do so. 

But given that this was a “sensitive and delicate situation” which required every country to take a position based on its own national interests, he said that having a common position may not be ideal. 

“This was not an occasion to try to corral and put pressure on individual members of ASEAN,” he said. “I don’t view that therefore as a setback that a couple of ASEAN member states abstained and that all the rest of us voted in favour.”

Singapore supports a peaceful resolution to the conflict and has been a “steadfast advocate of a negotiated two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security,” said Dr Balakrishnan, adding that Singapore does not take sides. 

The future status of Jerusalem should be determined through direct negotiations between both sides, he added.

Any unilateral and premature action that may alter the status of Jerusalem would only serve to further destabilise the region and impede the progress towards a just and durable solution to the conflict, he said. 

“We therefore hope the parties involved will work towards the resumption of direct peace negotiations.

“This can only be achieved if both sides approach this longstanding sensitive issues in a spirit of good faith and appreciation of each other beliefs, values, aspirations, hopes and anxieties,” he said.

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