SINGAPORE – A two-state solution is the only long-term answer to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict in the Middle East, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday night.
Speaking during a dialogue with editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News John Micklethwait at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum, he acknowledged that such a solution is very difficult and “looks way over the horizon”.
“But the alternative to a two-state solution is a one-state solution. That means one side or the other has to be squeezed out. That is unimaginable. So if you cannot work towards a two-state solution, you are going to be in this cycle of mutual destruction for generations to come,” he said.
PM Lee reiterated Singapore’s stand on the conflict, noting that it takes into consideration the country’s national interests, as well as the sentiments of its people.
He added that its position rests on several principles: National borders are inviolate, countries have the right of self-defence and the killing of innocent civilians is against international humanitarian law.
He called what happened on Oct 7, when Hamas killed 1,400 people in Israel and seized more than 240 hostages, not just against international law but also a “horrendous terrorist attack on an enormous scale”.
“We fully understand how the Israelis feel about it, and why they have reacted the way they have done. But what has happened since then in Gaza, as a consequence of Israeli operations, is an enormous human tragedy,” said PM Lee, noting that the death toll is ticking up every day.
Earlier this week, the death toll from Israeli strikes in Gaza exceeded 10,000, according to the Gaza health authorities.
PM Lee said: “Everybody around the world looked at this in despair, and said surely this has to stop. Whatever the rights and wrongs, you must pay attention to the humanitarian considerations.”
He added that it was important to recognise both the evil things which were done in the Oct 7 attack and also the very, very tragic things that are currently happening in Gaza.
“We have to exhort the Israelis and everybody else to abide by international norms, and to have a consideration for innocent civilians,” said PM Lee.
Asked if he was concerned about the war affecting regional security, especially in the light of his Malaysian counterpart Anwar Ibrahim expressing support for the Palestinians, PM Lee said that diplomatic support is not the difficulty, but terrorism is the threat.
He cited lone wolf attacks in Europe and in the United States since the war began, and said: “It can happen in this part of the world.”
PM Lee noted that self-radicalised individuals were picked up in Singapore before. This includes teenagers who bought bulletproof vests and knives and wanted to fight in the Middle East on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or emulate the Christchurch shooting and attack Muslims in mosques here.
“There are still terrorist groups within the region which have not disappeared,” said PM Lee, citing the Islamic militant group Jemaah Islamiyah, whose members were arrested here in 2001 before they launched their planned attacks.
“They are watching. Some of their followers will surely be riled up and they may plan something. So we have to take it very seriously,” said PM Lee.
Turning to the war in Ukraine, PM Lee opined that it would be a long and difficult fight because Russia is not going to declare that it has lost.
“Russia has already failed in its objective of overcoming Ukraine. And that is a great plus for the world,” said PM Lee.
He explained that if Russia had been able to launch a sudden and overwhelming takeover successfully and a new border was drawn, the world would be a much more dangerous place.
However, he questioned how long Ukraine’s supporters can keep it up and how the mood might change in the US, with elections due next November.
Asked by Mr Micklethwait if Russia’s failure to overwhelm Ukraine might have changed the thinking in China about going into Taiwan, PM Lee said he did not think the Chinese would ever have thought lightly about going into Taiwan.
“I am sure they must make the calculations, but I do not believe that they are trigger-happy,” said PM Lee.
He acknowledged that China would like Taiwan to be part of “One China”, but said: “I believe if they are not provoked, if events do not spin out of control – I do not believe that you are going to wake up one day and find that they have decided to launch D-Day.”
In speaking of China’s current objectives, PM Lee said the country is determined to develop and rightly believes it “will get there one way or the other”.
“You can hold them back a few years. You can deny them technology. They will develop their own – it may not be as good, but they will have something, and they are determined to show their people and show the world that it can be done.” he said.
Its challenge is to develop in a way that allows it to feel pride in itself, while still inspiring confidence and tranquillity among the rest of the world.
He explained that when a big country like China takes action, it can cause reverberations everywhere without quite realising it.
“It will take a while to get the right feel, for the Chinese to be able to grow taller and stronger and yet, keep everybody onside and on good terms,” PM Lee said, adding that he believes China is trying to do so.
Mr Micklethwait also brought up US-China ties, which had been a talking point at previous editions of the forum. US President Joe Biden is slated to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco next week, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
PM Lee said that the meeting is a “necessary step in this difficult moment in the relationship”, but he cautioned that the differences between the two countries are deeply rooted.
He added: “You need the meeting to head in the right direction, but you do not expect a meeting to make everything sweetness and light again. It is not possible.”
PM Lee explained that in the United States, the only thing the Democrats and Republicans agree on is that China is a grave threat. Meanwhile, in China, there is a strong consensus that the US is out to block it, and that it should protect itself against the US.
“When you have such views on both sides, even to want to think about stretching out and talking about a more constructive future is difficult,” he said.
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