Singapore Extends Hand of Friendship to Palestinian Authority

The ceasefire talks appear to be deadlocked. People, including women and children, are being killed in response to Israel’s actions following the Hamas massacre of Israeli citizens on October 7th. Gaza, the territory ruled by Hamas, is on the brink of complete collapse due to Israel’s aggression. Everyone knows what’s happening in Gaza is a crime. However, besides some countries like South Africa and Spain, the world remains silent. So-called Muslim countries show little interest in addressing this issue, except for Iran, which directly sponsors Hamas. As part of global Muslim solidarity, there is growing outrage on social media, but Muslim governments mostly limit themselves to issuing statements on the issue. Given the support of the United States and other economic leaders for Israel, countries cannot openly oppose Israel, so they opt to condemn attacks on Hamas ruling Gaza. Singapore, a developed country in Southeast Asia with a significant Muslim population, appears to be following a different strategy: refraining from Gaza and instead seeking to establish stronger connections with the Palestinian Authority and West Bank.

Despite Singapore being surrounded by Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia, which have witnessed a surge in political Islam, Singapore maintains warm relations with Israel through numerous treaties and economic and military bilateral trades. While Malaysia and Indonesia have recognized Palestine as a state, Singapore has not recognized Israel and has positioned itself favorably with Israel and the United States, which has benefited Singapore’s economy. Nevertheless, Singapore has consistently supported and advocated for a two-state solution, including the formation of a Palestinian state. Singapore has also supported Palestine by voting to grant it observer state status in the UN. 

As the latest development of Singapore’s clever strategy, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong  congratulated newly appointed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Dr Mohammad Mustafa. Palestinian Authority, the Hamas rival Fatah controlling government from the Ramallah, West Bank is considered more in connection with western governments. Since 2013, Palestinian Authority has used the name of Palestinian government and they represent Palestine in meetings instead of the Hamas controlled Government from Gaza. By extending congratulations to the newly appointed Palestinian Authority leader, Singapore is paving the way for further ties with the West-friendly Palestinian Authority.  This will help Singapore’s reputation in the West and the Islamic majority neighbors. As the regional business hub, this is important for Singapore. And it will quench the dissatisfaction of Islamic population in Singapore even though they are free from Islamic surge in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Dr. Mustafa succeeded his predecessor, Mohammed Shtayyeh, who resigned in February, as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority during Israel’s invasion of Gaza last month. Mr. Lee noted that it was a “Very challenging time” in his letter of congratulations to Mustafa, given that the Israel-Hamas conflict was approaching its sixth month and there was little indication that hostilities would end soon. “The severe humanitarian situation in Gaza profoundly worries Singapore. To enable the quick and unrestricted delivery of relief, we support an urgent humanitarian ceasefire” – he stated. In addition to deploying a Republic of Singapore Air Force aircraft for airdrop missions, Singapore has provided three installments of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

In addition, Lee mentioned Singapore’s pre-war initiatives for Palestine. Mr. Lee underlined Singapore’s commitment to supporting Palestinian efforts to build capacity under the Enhanced Technical Assistance Package (ETAP). In his letter to Dr. Mustafa, he stated that throughout the ETAP, over seven hundred Palestinian officials have taken part in research tours and training sessions. A representative office was set up in the West Bank’s Ramallah in 2022 in order to improve Singapore’s relation with the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Lee went on to underline Singapore’s support for a negotiated two-state solution, calling it “The only viable path towards a comprehensive, just, and durable peace” between Israelis and Palestinians. 

While the Palestinian Authority, known as one of the most corrupt but peaceful Palestinian organizations, has no role in Israel’s war on Gaza, Singapore is pursuing the most practical approach for the country. Singapore cannot involve itself in Gaza due to its close ties with Israel and the United States. However, as Asia’s business hub and an important trade post for many Muslim countries, Singapore can demonstrate its commitment to Muslims and Palestine by strengthening its relationship with the Palestinian Authority. This strategy aims to satisfy the Islamic populace while maintaining alignment with the US, effectively hitting two birds with one stone.