By Jamie Crawford and Adam Levine
The Obama administration is stressing that the aim in talking to all parties is for a "de-escalation" of the fighting between Israel and Hamas. But while administration officials talk about trying to stop the fighting, they are assiduously avoiding using the term "cease-fire."
At a press conference Tuesday in Cambodia, National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes said he was not refraining from using the term, but then he refrained from using the term:
REPORTER: Ben, you keep using the phrase “de-escalate the situation.” Are you avoiding using the word “cease-fire”?
RHODES: No, I mean, there are many ways that you can achieve the goal of a de-escalation. Again, what our bottom line is, is an end to rocket fire. We’re open to any number of ideas for achieving that goal. We’ve discussed any number of ideas for accomplishing that goal. But it’s going to have to begin with a reduction of tensions and space created for the situation to calm. So we’ll be discussing going forward, as we have been over the last several days, what are the various ways in which we can accomplish that goal.
At the State Department briefing on Tuesday, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also emphasized de-escalation over cease-fire, saying there are many ways to lessen the violence:
REPORTER: Does the administration have some aversion to calling this a ceasefire? Or - and if it doesn't, why not just use it? And if it does, what's the aversion?
NULAND: You know very well, from having watched these kinds of situations unfold, that there are many ways that this can de-escalate. I'm not going to prejudge here.
One reason for the administration's position could be that Israel does not want a cease-fire, at least not at the start. Israeli officials are calling for a "calming down" for 24-hours. The "calming down" could halt violence, but would not be the same as an official cease-fire or truce, CNN's Ben Wedeman reported.
The United States is not sure what nomenclature will be acceptable to each side to describe a cessation of violence, which is why the administration is using the term "de-escalation," one official told CNN's Jill Dougherty.
Stressing de-escalation keeps the bar lower than talking about a cease-fire, observes Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"You don't need two parties necessarily to agree to a de-escalation. It just happens," Alterman said in an e-mail to Security Clearance.
Dan Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, tells Security Clearance he is not clear why the U.S. is avoiding the term but it could be because the discussions are not just focused on that.
"It could be that what is being negotiated in Cairo is broader than a cease-fire, that is, not just cessation of hostilities, but steps toward stabilization," Kurtzer noted.
Kurtzer hypothesizes that it could also reflect an "unwillingness to accord Hamas equal standing" since cease-fire suggests an agreement between two sides.