The Malta Independent 19 April 2024, Friday
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‘We need to find a way to make a two-State solution work’ - US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State

Albert Galea Sunday, 3 March 2024, 07:30 Last update: about 3 months ago


The international community needs to find a way, together, to make a two-State solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict work, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Joshua Huck told The Malta Independent on Sunday in an interview.

Speaking while in Malta on a short visit, Huck – who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State overseeing policy for Southern Europe and the Caucasus – said that this won’t be easy, and is not something that the United States can even impose, but it is something which will need the buy-in from all the players in the region.


Huck was asked about criticism about the US’ response to the war in Gaza, with many perceiving their actions to favour Israel even as reports of civilian bombings continue to emerge day on day. Criticism ramped up after the US used their veto against a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in the region.  It was the third time that the country has used its veto to this end.

“I think there is a lot of misunderstanding about the situation there and the US position more broadly,” Huck said.

He said that since the events of October 7, when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel, killed over 1,000 people – including hundreds of civilians – and took hostage more than 200 people, many of whom civilians, there has been no higher priority than addressing the situation in Gaza.

“That includes not only its impacts on the people of Israel, but also on Palestinians in Israel as well, and we see this as a crucial, crucial challenge, not just for United States, but for the region, for the world,” Huck said.

He said that the US has focused on four different tracks in navigating this issue.

“None of this is simple. I think sometimes there's a tendency to look at this thing in a kind of black and white sense; that this is right and this is wrong, or like ‘if only this was done, it would be solved’ - there’s no way that that's possible,” he said.

The first of those four tracks is a focus on freeing those taken hostage.  “You have people… you can only imagine the agony that family members are feeling knowing that their sister, their brother, their child is held hostage, and in conditions that they don't know where they are or what their situation is.”

He noted that the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has been to the region seven times since the conflict began, and that therefore “it’s fair to say that no one has been working harder to try to address these issues.”

Huck continued that the US is not just concerned about the Israeli side, but is also very aware of “the critical humanitarian need facing Palestinians in Gaza.”

“We've been very clear that Israel needs to do more in every one of those trips that Secretary Blinken has made to the region. He has been clear that Israel needs to do more to protect civilians and get more aid into the people who need it,” Huck said.

He said that the United States has been one of the largest donors to Palestinians, granting some $5 billion in aid over the past 20 years, which will be supplemented by another $100 million announced by President Joe Biden in the last few days.

“Our assistance has funded 90,000 metric tonnes of flour which was delivered to Ashdod Port and would feed 1.4 million people for five months,” he said, adding that today more aid is getting into Gaza than at any point since October 7.

“That's not to say that that's enough… more needs to be done, and we're working on that constantly,” he added.

The third track is ensuring that the conflict does not expand, notably also because there are players involved who are “actively working to undermine a stable, long-term solution” in the area.  Activity on the border between Israel and Lebanon is one area of focus, as are the actions of the Houthis in Yemen are areas of focus.

The most crucial aspect however is trying to work for a “just, durable and long-term solution.”

“I think many people unfortunately are too focused on looking for a ban-aid that we can kind of put on and just have it be over with so we can look at something else. Unfortunately, that kind of approach just leads to us being back here in five months or five years. And the violence continues and the cycle goes on. That's not what we want. That shouldn't be in anyone's interest,” he said.

Every death on either side – be it an attack that kills Israelis, or any other attack, either intended or unintended, which kills Palestinians will continue this exact cycle, he observed, when asked about the casualties left by Israeli bombings.

“What we need is a long term solution that addresses the legitimate security needs of Israel, but also the legitimate needs of the Palestinian people,” he continued.

He said that the US strongly supports a two-State solution which sees a Palestinian and Israeli State side by side, “with Israel fully integrated into the region with normalised relationships and the appropriate security guarantees.”

“I don't think anyone would say this is easy, or that this can be done simply, or frankly, even that the United States alone can impose this on the region… this would have to be something that has a buy-in from all the players in the region. We need support. This is why it should matter to all of us to find this just, durable, long-term solution that will work for the needs of everyone in the region,” he said.

Huck was asked about one of the, as he called them, players bringing further instability in the area – the Houthis in Yemen – and how the US is responding to this, and how far it was ready to go.

He noted that the Houthis have now attacked shipping associated with over 15 different countries in what is one of the most important maritime thoroughfares in the world, firing pretty much indiscriminately at vessels.

“It is piracy, or it is terrorism, pure and simple, and it in no way helps resolve anything. Nor does it get any amount of food to Palestinians who need it. Some of the ships that they've hit are actually carrying aid to other parts of the Middle East. It's incredibly self-defeating, incredibly unnecessary,” he said.

He said that the US has, together with other partners, taken steps to prevent the Houthis from undertaking this action though both offensive strikes and defensive operations such as Operation Prosperity Guardian and an equivalent EU-led operation designed to protect shipping in the area.

Huck said that countries like the US and Malta – even more so Malta – know how important marine traffic and how disruption can affect everyday life.

“This must matter deeply to Europeans and there's no reason that that we all should be impacted by inflationary price pressure, due to the really irresponsible, violent actions by the Houthis. This is something where we all need to come together and we all need to, to work to rein this in,” he said.

Exactly what means are best to do so are still under development, he said, adding though that what is most important is that more and more countries are seeing the importance of stopping these attacks.

Ukraine: ‘We need to be in this for as long as it takes’

It’s been two years since war erupted in Ukraine after Russia invaded the country, and while aid poured into the stricken nation, with time comes fatigue: European aid is getting more and more held up, while even aid from the US is starting to be questioned by the Republican opposition.

Huck was asked whether he worries that this elapsing of time may be creating a sense of fatigue which will affect how much aid is provided to Ukraine.

“It's just tragic to consider how much loss of life, damage, suffering has been caused by Vladimir Putin’s war of choice, a war that he decided on; a war that didn't have to happen,” Huck said.

He said that it was the US which, two years ago, had warned that Putin was planning this conflict and which conducted negotiations to see if there was a way it could be avoided.

“What has been clear is how much of a strategic failure his decision [to go to war] has been, and how much it has not gone the way that Russia had planned,” he said.

“It is clear what Russia thought would happen when they launched this invasion: that they would be able to roll over Ukraine and have their way with a country and enforce what they wanted. But instead of President Zelenskyy fleeing, which I think was what they thought would happen, he's led; instead of the Ukrainian people backing down, they fought; instead of the West fracturing, we've united, and instead of NATO shrinking; we've grown,” he continued.

“So now, Putin is facing a more united, better resourced, better organised NATO than ever before.”

He spoke of how Russia has deliberately attacked civilian targets and deliberately tried to prevent the Ukrainian people from having basic services, not to mention the horrors in places like Bucha and the abduction and confinement of children from the country. “Despite all of that, Ukraine has persevered and we really believe that the Ukrainian people need and deserve our support.”

“This matters to Europeans. It matters to the United States, and it matters beyond. We have a coalition of over 50 countries, including EU members, NATO, G7 members all united on this, because we know that this doesn't just affect Ukraine: if Russia succeeds in this they will threaten the basic world order that underpins security and prosperity,” he said.

These are the rights of states to their sovereignty, their territorial integrity, and the right to choose a path and not have one imposed upon them by an aggressive neighbour.

“It’s clear, again, that the Ukrainian people need and deserve our support, and we need to be in this for as long as it takes,” he said.

Malta and US relations: ‘We are working together to solve problems and make a difference’

This will be the 60th anniversary of when US-Malta relations were officially established and asked about them now Huck said that it is a relationship which has “gone from strength to strength.”

“Everything that I’ve seen and heard here confirms our view back in Washington that the relationship is at a really strong point.  We are really happy with the cooperation we have with Malta across so many levels and so many different areas,” he said.

He mentioned a number of those areas: maritime security, port security, business and economics, energy and renewables, climate, and tourism to name a few.

Huck said that the US Embassy in Malta – under the guidance of Ambassador Constance Millstein – is also working on fostering people-to-people ties through outreach, such as through a school outreach programme focusing on promoting opportunities to women entrepreneurs which the Embassy is running.

Then there is the multi-lateral cooperation in bodies such as the United Nations Security Council and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) which Malta has recently taken on the Chairpersonship of.  Huck described this as “an exciting new addition to the relationship.”

“We’ve got strong bilateral ties but now what’s really interesting and exciting is that we’re working more and more in partnership on things that matter for the region and the world,” he said.

“We’ve had great coordination at the United Nations Security Council and particularly really appreciate Malta’s strong partnership with us, the EU and other partners in standing with Ukraine and Ukrainians in their fight for sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression,” he said.

Part of that is in ensuring adherence to economic sanctions to make sure that the Russian war machine is denied the resources it needs to continue its unjust war, Huck said.

“Malta I think for many years had this convening power: it’s been a place where people can meet, and I think that that bridging role is very important,” he said.

Huck was asked about Malta’s neutrality, particularly within the global context that previously neutral countries such as Finland and Sweden are aligning themselves with bodies such as NATO, and how relevant he thinks it is in today’s world.

“Ultimately that’s a decision for the people of Malta,” he said.  “We fully respect Malta's decision and status as neutral. That's Malta's decision and we respect that, and we will work as partners within that framework and whatever makes sense, for us together is what we'll do.”

“It's a framework in which we're perfectly willing to work with Malta to advance our common interests,” he added.

He referred to the International Institute for Justice and Rule of Law (IIJ) – which is Malta-based but which counts the US as one of its largest supporters – as another example of where the two countries are working together for the benefit of the region, as this organisation brings people especially from North Africa for training on the rule of law.

“We really value this partnership because we are working together to solve problems and make a difference rather than to just muddle along.”



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