SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Feb 20) expressed hope that Israel and Palestine can resume direct negotiations and make progress towards a "just and durable" solution to their long-standing conflict.
Speaking at a joint press briefing during the official visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is in town until Tuesday, Mr Lee added that Singapore is a good friend of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority.
Singapore also understands the situation in the Middle East is complex, he said, adding that he explained to Mr Netanyahu that while the Middle East is far from Southeast Asia, its developments still concern Singapore.
The Israel-Palestine issue concerns people all over the world and is an "emotional issue" especially for Muslims, he said. He noted that Singapore is surrounded by Muslim-majority countries in the region and also has a significant Muslim population which is an important part of the nation's harmonious multi-racial society.
Said Mr Lee: "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. I expressed this to the prime minister in Israel last year. We still hold that view.
"Today, the prime minister updated me on developments and I explained Singapore's position again, and expressed my hope for peace between Israel and Palestine, which will contribute to a stabler Middle East and indeed stabler world."
Meanwhile, Mr Netanyahu said Israel has much to learn from Singapore in areas such as housing. He is expected to visit Toa Payoh estate on Monday afternoon to learn more about the country’s housing policies.
"As we landed here, I was absolutely amazed, tremendously impressed. As much as you hear about Singapore's success, to see it physically is quite startling and it tells you the power of people, the power of ideas, the power of the potential or rather of talent unleashed," he said.
He added that despite both nations being small in size, there are many areas of collaboration that would lead to prosperity on both sides, including research and development and innovations.
"I believe that Israel and Singapore are kindred spirits," said Mr Netanyahu. "We're small nations that have become in many areas global powers and I believe that our cooperation makes us even more successful."
This is the first time an incumbent Israeli Prime Minister has been on an official visit to Singapore. However, it is not the first visit by an Israeli PM to Singapore. The late Yitzhak Rabin stopped by in 1993, after a visit to Jakarta.
At the press briefing, Mr Lee also said Singapore will "always be grateful" to Israel for helping to build up the Singapore Armed Forces during the nation's early and vulnerable years. By responding to Singapore's request for help, it had ensured the nation's survival at a time of great uncertainty and vulnerability, he said.
Since then, ties between both countries have expanded beyond defence and security. Israel is the second-largest contributor of foreign domestic investments to Singapore from the Middle East. Universities on both sides have also collaborated on various projects - including a memorandum of understanding signed on cybersecurity research earlier this month.