Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan: Israel's military response to Hamas attack 'has gone too far'

He acknowledges strong emotions on the conflict among Singaporeans, but says severing diplomatic ties with Israel is not the right way forward

Singapore Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan (left) said in Parliament that Israel's military response following the 7 October Hamas attack
Singapore Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan (left) said in Parliament that Israel's military response following the 7 October Hamas attack "has gone too far". (PHOTO: MCI/Reuters)

SINGAPORE — Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament on Thursday (29 February) that Israel's military response to the 7 October Hamas attack "has gone too far".

Responding to questions by Member of Parliament (MPs) during his ministry's Committee of Supply budget debate, Dr Balakrishnan however cautioned that severing diplomatic ties with Israel would neither resolve the situation, nor reduce the suffering of Palestinians.

The minister's response differed from his last parliamentary speech about the conflict last November, when he stated that Israel must accept a Palestinian state, just as Palestinians should accept Israel's right to exist.

On Thursday, Dr Balakrishnan said, "Unfortunately, Israel's military response has gone too far.

"The catastrophic situation in Gaza demands an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to alleviate the unbearable suffering of the civilian victims and to enable humanitarian assistance to reach them immediately."

Foreign policy not driven by affinity to any external group

While Dr Balakrishnan acknowledged that the Israel-Hamas war has evoked strong emotions among Singaporeans, he urged them not to let the issue affect the city-state's harmony or cohesion.

"The worst thing would be to let this quarrel polarise and divide us as Singaporeans," he said.

"Our diversity is a strength, but the same windows of opportunity also provide windows for external influence and for discord and divisiveness. This is a design feature of Singapore, and so long as we remember that we must not allow centrifugal pressures to threaten our harmony and our cohesion, we can continue to take advantage of our diversity."

He reiterated that Singapore's foreign policy could not be driven by sentiment or affinity to any external group. It should be based on Singapore's core interests, and be acted on consistently in accordance with the principles that safeguard its independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security.

Responding to calls for Singapore to sever diplomatic ties with Israel over its actions, Dr Balakrishnan said it is not the right way forward.

"We manage our international relations by remaining engaged with the international community and maintaining ties with as many countries as possible," he said.

"Breaking ties with a country whose actions Singapore disapproved of would not be 'constructive' nor would it change the situation on the ground. Nor will it influence Israel to suddenly change its policies, nor will it necessarily immediately reduce the suffering of the Palestinians."

He noted that none of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, or Arab countries like Egypt and Jordan, had broken off ties.

Singapore to donate third tranche of aid for Gaza

Dr Balakrishnan said that Singapore has maintained good ties with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority amid the conflict. It will also donate a third tranche of aid for Gaza - a S$10 million Enhanced Technical Assistance Package - through Jordan.

The Israel-Hamas conflict began on 7 October last year, as Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel. Gunmen breached security barriers with a barrage of rockets fired from Gaza, killing about 1,200 and kidnapping scores of civilians.

Israel has responded by relentlessly bombarding Gaza and sending in ground troops, killing and displacing Palestinians. More than 30,000 people have been killed in the territory since the war began.

Since the conflict began, Singapore authorities have warned against holding events and public assemblies related to the Israel-Hamas situation. Applications for such events at Hong Lim Park have been turned down on the grounds of public safety and security concerns.

Police have also investigated events related to the war and warned off calls to protest at the Singapore Airshow. More recently, the Ministry of Education has had to clarify the purpose of the Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) lessons regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict.

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