S’pore lends a hand while Palestine awaits statehood
BY TOH YONG CHUAN IN RAMALLAH (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES), Straits Times
SINGAPORE will continue to help the Palestinians in their nation-building efforts by training their officials in such areas as public finance and administration.
About 150 Palestinian officials have been trained in Singapore since 1996 and the numbers are set to rise in the next four years, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli told reporters on Wednesday.
They will head to Singapore under a five-year, $5 million training programme the Republic started for them last year.
The programme will give the officials “early exposure and training at the leadership level”, said Mr Masagos, adding that it will prepare them “in the event that Palestine becomes a state”.
Describing Palestine as “the last occupied territory in the world, until Crimea”, he said Singapore’s offer to train Palestinian officials is a practical move that can have a greater impact on Palestine than cash contributions.
He said the Palestinian problem is “complicated” and not simply one of Jews against Muslims.
The longstanding conflict erupted yet again in July, with Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas fighting over 50 days. About 108,000 were left homeless in Gaza.
Singapore ministers had indicated that both sides were responsible for escalating tensions.
In his speech, Mr Masagos reiterated that Singapore supports the Palestinians’ right to a homeland and believes Israel and Palestine can have peace based on a “negotiated two-state solution”.
“We are friendly to both,” he said in wrapping up his six-hour visit to Ramallah, the administrative city of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) government.
During the visit, he called on President Mahmoud Abbas, who “expressed appreciation for Singapore’s efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and support for the reconstruction of Gaza”, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) yesterday. Singapore will give US$100,000 (S$127,000) to help provide clean water and sanitation in Gaza. It is on top of an earlier US$100,000 contribution plus $1.7 million raised from the public.
President Abbas also welcomed Singapore’s technical aid programme and Mr Masagos’ suggestion to explore additional training of Palestinian officials at the Asia-Middle East Dialogue Regional Training Centre in Jordan, the MFA statement added.
Mr Masagos also called on Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. They discussed potential cooperation in areas such as water management and public administration, said the MFA.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Riyad Al-Maliki hosted him to lunch, at which they discussed the challenges facing the Middle East. Mr Masagos also laid a wreath at the tomb of former PNA president Yasser Arafat.
Giving his impression of Ramallah, he said: “It is not like what is in many people’s minds, a war-torn town full of bullet holes and ravaged by bombs. It is like any modern small city.”
Mr Masagos’ visit to Ramallah was part of a five-day official trip to Jordan and Palestine, during which he met top leaders in Jordan, including Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour.
He and Mr Ensour reaffirmed the warm ties between both countries and Mr Masagos welcomed Jordan’s interest in learning from Singapore’s developmental experience. He also expressed appreciation to Jordan for helping Singaporeans pursuing Islamic education in its universities.
Mr Masagos returns to Singapore today.