SINGAPORE (AP) — Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, hosting a visit by his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Monday his country believes in a "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Lee explained his stand at a joint news briefing with Netanyahu, who does not endorse the two-nation approach. Lee said he realizes a two-state solution is difficult to achieve, but said it is the only way to achieve peace.
Netanyahu's official visit is the first to Singapore by an Israeli head of government. Last year Lee became the first Singaporean prime minister to visit Israel.
Netanyahu referred to Singapore and Israel at the news conference as being "kindred spirits." Both nations are small, with significant defense and high-tech industries. The two countries established diplomatic relations in 1969, but have ties dating back to 1965, when Israeli military advisers covertly assisted Singapore after its declaration of independence.
Acknowledging the "very complex situation" between Palestinians and Israel, Lee called for direct negotiations that will ensure "progress toward a just and durable solution to this long-standing and often, unfortunately violent conflict."
"We have consistently believed that a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, however hard to achieve, is the only way to bring peace and security to both peoples," Lee said.
Netanyahu did not mention tensions in the Middle East in his remarks at the news briefing, after which questions were not allowed.
But afterward, at a state dinner, he said he believes there is an opportunity to seek peace now "because I sense a great change in the Arab world, in many Arab countries, and I hope ... to be able to use that newfound attitude toward Israel to help us solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as well."
The two-state approach, in which negotiations aim to lead to an independent Palestinian nation, has wide international support, including from Arab nations. It would likely require Israel to give up occupied territory that is strategically and religiously significant.
A two-state solution has anchored American diplomacy in the Middle East for two decades. When U.S. President Donald Trump hosted Netanyahu last week, the American leader signaled a policy shift, saying both a two-state and a single-state solution should be considered.
Netanyahu also said Israel was pivoting toward Asia "in a very clear and purposeful way."
"Next month I'll go to China. Somewhat later this year, Prime Minister Modi of India will come to visit Israel," he said. Poised in the middle, he said, is Singapore, "our perfect partner."
Netanyahu departs for Australia on Tuesday.
This story has been corrected to show that Netanyahu said Israel is pivoting toward Asia.