Trump naming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital affects S'poreans. Here's how.

Situation in the Middle East is testy.

Kayla Wong | December 09, 2017, 05:24 PM

President Donald Trump named Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Dec. 6, 2017.

This sparked yet another controversy and fulfilled a campaign promise he made previously.

This unilateral act by the United States does not reflect international consensus and is seen as deciding on an issue that was supposed to be left to negotiations.

It also overturned 70 years of US foreign policy on this matter.

Why is it controversial?

The final status of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive issues in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Palestinian leaders insist there's no hope for a peace agreement, unless they're able to set up their own capital in East Jerusalem, while Israel claims the entire city as its "eternal and undivided capital".

Yet, President Trump said he "judged this course of action to be in the best interest of the US and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians".

Moving the American embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv would also mean that the US endorses Israel’s claim to the city, effectively rejecting the Palestinian one.

Out of nearly 160 countries with diplomatic relations with Israel, Czech Republic is the only country that took Trump's lead and recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

What is Singapore's position on the matter?

Singapore's longstanding position on the Middle East peace process has been the traditional two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.

A "two-state solution" broadly means "two states for two groups of people."

In a response to media queries, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson said that "the future of Jerusalem should be decided through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians".

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last reiterated this in February 2017, saying Singapore is good friends with both Israel and the Palestinian National Authority, and also many Arab countries.

While Israel is one of Singapore's oldest and most important military partners, Singapore is also on friendly terms with the Palestinians.

Singapore has committed to providing technical assistance package of S$10 million to support Palestinians in building their capacity and skills.

PM Lee also said affairs in the Middle East concerns Singapore, considering the fact that Singapore is a city-state that is vulnerable to external shocks.


So why should Singaporeans care?

Economic survival

Oil has long been a major part of Singapore's economy. We are the biggest oil hub in Asia, and one of the world's biggest oil refineries.

According to ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan, Singapore's interests in the Middle East diversified from oil to include free trade agreements with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Jordan, as well as projects amounting to almost S$21 million (as of 2013) by Singapore firms.

Should the Middle East be destabilised due to America's unilateral action on this matter, Singapore would not benefit from it as our major oil supply centres might get disrupted.

But that's only if it happens.

On the other hand...

In one of Bilahari's recent Facebook posts, he expressed his doubt towards the weight of the entire Palestinian issue on most Arab governments.

He wrote that the initial backlash in response to Trump's decision -- such as the call for "three days of rage" by Palestinians, and Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas' call for a new Palestinian uprising -- is simply a temporary, knee-jerk response.

The hard fact is that to most Arab governments, the Palestinian issue is more important instrumentally than substantively. And Fatah and Hamas are no different.

He contends that something else of greater concern would probably happen in the region again, and that the attention would shift there instead.

For protection against religious extremism in the long-term

However, the long-term effects of religious extremism in the region might be aggravated due to the widening division between Israel and the Palestine.

The Malaysian Foreign Ministry warned that Trump's move could result in "grave repercussions" towards the "security and stability of the region", "inflame sentiments", and make efforts to combat terrorism "all the more difficult".

Trump's unilateral declaration has already sparked anger across countries with substantial Muslim populations.

Singapore is a multi-religious and secular state in which Muslims account for 15 percent of our population, and can ill afford any threat of religious extremism.

Perhaps Singapore's Environment and Water Resources Minister, Masagos Zulkifli, gave the most non-stand-offish take: "We must not add fodder to the situation that has for decades justified mindless violence by terrorists and enmity between neighbours -- a dark history the human race can do without".

Top image via Twitter