Why Obama administration is avoiding 'cease-fire'
November 20th, 2012
03:46 PM ET

Why Obama administration is avoiding 'cease-fire'

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.

Also: Detour at the start of Hillary Clinton's farewell tour

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.

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Filed under: Diplomacy • Gaza • Israel • Middle East • Palestine
soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Frank Rizzo

    So if liberalism is shifting American Jews' attachment to Israel, is American liberal opinion more broadly changing too?

    Oh yeah – you see the evidence in people like Jimmy Carter, Bill Moyers, and so on. But on the topic of Israel-Palestine liberals tend to take their cues from liberal Jews. They'll go out there when they see a large number of Jews do it. It's the same thing with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – Amnesty only began to honestly cover the occupied territories when B'Tselem did. It waited for a Jewish organisation to give it cover.

    And this is for good reasons as well as bad – it's not just for mercenary or cowardly reasons. It's a kind of feeling, 'well, Jews have suffered a lot, so I really should defer to the judgement of a liberal Jew on this'. I saw that on the Left too. I was good friends, I loved the guy, with Paul Sweezy, editor of Monthly Review. Sweezy came from a blue-blood patrician family. He was an exceptionally wonderful human being, and he was the leading American Marxist economist. All of his collaborators throughout his life were Jewish – Paul Baran, Harry Magdoff, Leo Huberman... he was that kind of guy, even though his family worked for the House of Morgan. Paul was not afraid of anything, but when it came to Israel and Jewish issues, he always deferred to his Jewish collaborators, out of a kind of respect: 'I shouldn't go past where they're going'. And I respected that – I understood it.

    It was the same thing with Amnesty. There were the bad reasons – the money. They were afraid that if they were too critical of Israel they would lose funding, because Jews are liberal, and they put all their money in liberal organisations. But there were also the good reasons – Jews went through the Nazi Holocaust, and so we have to be a bit more cautious with them.

    OK, so we've discussed why American Jews and liberals more generally are turning from Israel. What do you think follows from this strategically for the Palestinian solidarity movement?

    November 21, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Reply
  2. Frank Rizzo

    Why are American Jews becoming disillusioned with Israel?

    There is a common misunderstanding here, because everybody just assumes that the one and only factor shaping American Jewish attachment to Israel, and also the inexorable one, is the 'ethnic' factor: if you're Jewish you must be pro-Israel, in fact you must be fanatically pro-Israel. But the historical evidence shows that the relationship in fact depends on three factors.

    One factor is ethnicity, for sure, because if you're Catholic there's just no particular interest from the get-go in Israel. It might develop, but as a point of departure it's not there – it has to be created. In the case of Jews, the ethnic factor is the foundational factor. If you're Jewish, you're going to have an immediate connection with Israel. How powerful that connection is, that's a secondary issue, but there will be something. So I'm not going to in any way deny or diminish the ethnic factor, but it has to be contextualised.

    For example, there is an ethnic factor after 1948, but it is very seriously weakened by the 'citizenship' factor: the fact that Jews enjoy citizenship in the United States. After World War II, Jews were flourishing in the United States, and they didn't want to jeopardise their standing as American citizens. Jews have always been burdened by the 'dual loyalty' bogey and have been historically identified with the Left (not without good reason – the American Communist Party was way disproportionately Jewish; the Bolsheviks were mainly Jewish; etc.). So Jews had to worry about both the historical legacy of the 'dual loyalty' charge, compounded by the fact that with the beginning of the Cold War they had to dissociate from the Soviet Union and the whole leftist tradition. Israel, moreover, was at that time seen as leftist – the ruling Mapai party was staunch Second International, and the main opposition party Mapam was staunch Stalinist. American Jews didn't want much to do with that. And so the citizenship factor seriously diluted the ethnic factor, to the point where there was really no interest in Israel. If you look at the whole record, and I've read it carefully, from '48-'67, there's nothing on Israel there. You go through the issues of Commentary magazine, Israel would appear in about one issue out of every twenty, around article number thirteen headlined something like, 'Bar Mitzvah in Israel'. Those were the kind of articles they would run about Israel.

    November 21, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Reply
  3. Frank Rizzo

    Aside from the polling evidence, I think the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming. You see it everywhere, with high-profile defectors like Peter Beinart and David Remnick, and then you read all of these testimonials by Jews talking about how they're really embarrassed by the way Israel is carrying on. You see this whenever there's a meeting or convention. There was the Jewish Federations General Assembly recently, and Peter Beinart gave one of his anguished speeches, and then a young woman stood up and she started to avow her anguish... it's everywhere. This is not sightings of Elvis – this is serious anecdotal evidence that Jews are becoming less and less attached to Israel.

    And what's the significance of that?

    It's very important if you believe that the Israel lobby has played a critical role in blocking a settlement of the conflict through the pressures it exerts on the U.S. government. If you see the lobby as a series of concentric circles, there's a 'core', and they're not going to change – they're paid lobbyists, that's their job – but it moves out and at some point includes broader Jewish sentiment. Not its core, but moving outwards, it includes for example many Jews who write for newspapers and magazines, and so on. In the conventional sense that's not a lobby – they're not paid agents. But if you understand the lobby, and I think it's a reasonable way to look at it, as a series of concentric circles stretching from a core of paid lobbyists out towards the broader Jewish community, then Jewish opinion plays a big role in the lobby's effectiveness. Liberal Jewish alienation from Israel means that we're reaching the point where we can reduce the lobby to its core – which is still a pain, no question about it, and still represents a lot of money, but it means we have a chance of reaching people now.

    November 21, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Reply
  4. shortlife306

    When we are talking about humanity, it seems that this is for the developed countries only, the rest is non exist. Whether the destruction in Gaza, killing of civilians by Israelis forces or the done attack by USA on Pakistan, a mass murdering of innocent civilians especially the kids, the so called developed countries simply ignore the norms, they say, its after the terrorists? so and so have the right to defend itself. If you are so brave Rambo, why don't you go and get the few terrorists and leave the civilians? Does it mean that the women and kids of other under developed countries are just so cheap but very precious and human to other? Now I understand who have donated more money to Obama to become the second term president so that their purposes could be obtained. Treat other kids like your own and stop their killing

    November 21, 2012 at 9:03 am | Reply
  5. Schmoogalicious

    There is only one way to end the conflict: for Israel to agree to uphold international law and the full human rights of the Palestinians, and to treat all its citizens equally before the law, regardless of religion or ethnicity. Only then will Israel know security and peace. As long as Israel refuses to agree to that, nothing Hamas or anyone else does will make a hill of beans difference.

    November 21, 2012 at 8:52 am | Reply
  6. Tahir
    November 21, 2012 at 3:36 am | Reply
  7. Tahir

    Well Hitler did a good job coz he knew the nature of jews...they r the problem makers in the world..There were reasons to left some jews coz he want to show the world why he killed jews....Now its crystal clear what israel is doing in phalestines and see obama administration how they r defending Israel..its ridiculous...When Americans r bombing and drones in Pakistan so its not against the humanity law..obama is the biggest hypocrite in the world and biggest terrorist...he forget all the human's values..Hamas r freedom Fighters and they will fight untill last breath..

    November 21, 2012 at 3:25 am | Reply
    • Cocopuf

      You can GO TO H3LL.

      November 21, 2012 at 4:38 am | Reply
    • Jim

      anti-semitic much?

      November 21, 2012 at 5:58 am | Reply
    • hitler not 100%wrong

      a fact well said, the only difference this time it is up to muslims to decide what to do with the zionist

      November 21, 2012 at 6:53 am | Reply
      • Hahahahahahhaha

        Sorry, but Hitler's plans where to terminate the muslims next. Hahahahahahhah

        November 21, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  8. C. Mendoza

    Absolutely ridiculous to spend so much time and energy trying to decide which word sounds "nicer". This time should be spent trying to help to resolve the conflict. And if you are avoiding a certain word, at least tell the people why! If you are not sure which word to use, then go back to school, don´t waste your taxpayer´s money. I love this administration, but they really need to get a grip on foreign policy, for God´s sake!

    November 21, 2012 at 1:42 am | Reply
    • victor ochieng

      if their were any thumbs up here then you totally deserve it

      November 21, 2012 at 6:23 am | Reply
  9. shad

    Democracy is people select their leader by vote but only in europen & USA. But democracy means for other asian country is not selected by vote . Only elected by vote not sufficient they must be in favour of USA & europen leaders support. thus asian people voting their leader has no value. their elected leader will not be recognised by europeans.
    Create trouble and Bombing asian country is only democracy for eropean.

    November 21, 2012 at 1:40 am | Reply
    • FIip

      Well obviously you do not know a thing about democracy.

      November 21, 2012 at 1:49 am | Reply
  10. shad

    U.N. is a unable to find the solution and uable to punish those are responsible for genocide in gaza becasue it has captured by the rasical countries. Super power has no sense of huminity. Any person can see and tell the world if seeing the position of gaza live only a few ltr water for a family. no fishing in sea to live due to blockage by israel but democratice leader of world making fool their country people how can they elected people must see and asking the question and their view from their leader.

    November 21, 2012 at 1:32 am | Reply
  11. shad

    Why Democratic country people support their undemocratic president , priminister rulers , who is supporting genocide in gaza in the name of democracy. people should stood again this and protest their leaders .

    November 21, 2012 at 1:23 am | Reply
  12. shad

    President Mr. Obama go to White House and see your noble prize listen its soul voice and see your self.

    November 21, 2012 at 1:19 am | Reply
    • Hahahahahahhaha

      ........and then tell those Hamass terrorists to STOP sending rockets into Isreal. Hahahahahahahah

      November 21, 2012 at 9:33 am | Reply
  13. lizzytalorburton

    You can thank Obama and Clinton for the Arab Spring and the death and destruction it is bringing with it! But the administration has no shame about this or Bengazi or how they have hurt Israel with their Middle East love of The Muslim Brotherhood. Obama should be impeached for treason regarding Bengazi and Clinton should have been thrown out the day the Ambassador died along with the three other Americans. Stupidity reigns supreme in the Obama administration. And Clinton wants to be President? She was too stupid even to protect the Ambassador after he begged and pleaded for protection and then he was murdered the day he asked for the last time.

    November 21, 2012 at 12:59 am | Reply
    • coirman

      you surely knew more than we do, what is it?

      November 21, 2012 at 5:56 am | Reply
  14. SayWhaaa

    Loved it when Obamba said "no country can accept missiles falling on their citizens" Well what the heck is the US doing in pakistan, Yemen, somalia, and god knows where else. Perhaps the most hypocritical statement ever.

    November 20, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Reply
    • J W

      U.S. drones don't target civilians. They target enemy combatants who are wanted for specific crimes against Americans, using a hit list approved by a legislature subcommittee with oversight control. These combatants are foreign operatives illegally present in the country in which they are targeted. These are not cell group leaders who are merely planning an attack, but have successfully carried out one or more lethal attacks against the U.S.

      November 21, 2012 at 1:43 am | Reply
      • Sharjeel

        good to know that U.S. "legislature subcommittee with oversight control" can bypass the law of any country and just attack people who they claim "have successfully carried out one or more lethal attacks against the U.S." I am sure there are other countries who would love to use this same excuse. just to clarify, let us read your post again but instead of U.S. let us rename the country to, let us say, Iran/iraq/Israel/XYZ:
        "Iran/iraq/Israel/XYZ drones don't target civilians. They target enemy combatants who are wanted for specific crimes against Iranians/iraqians/Israelies/XYZians, using a hit list approved by a legislature subcommittee with oversight control. These combatants are foreign operatives illegally present in the country in which they are targeted. These are not cell group leaders who are merely planning an attack, but have successfully carried out one or more lethal attacks against the Iran/iraq/Israel/XYZ".
        Simply put, everyone would start claiming and attacking people in other country because they justified it according to their own legislature. I do not think you would like other countries attacking and killing people in the U.S. It is a slippery slope my friend.

        November 21, 2012 at 4:39 am |
      • pieter

        they don't target them, that would truly be immoral, but what happens, what is the real result?: the lion's share of casualties are civilians in fact! If you kill someone in a traffic accident, although you didn't intend to, it is also a crime

        November 21, 2012 at 5:22 am |
  15. RLTJ's

    People have no thought of that before. Interesting.

    I think "De-escalation" sounds better. "Ceasefire" has been around for too long so that people have associated it with off and on of war. A recess, a little rest, to make war again.

    I take "De escalation" to mean Back to Normalcy. But when or what can we call normalcy in there?

    November 20, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Reply
    • squirrelyone

      I think they explained it pretty well in the article. To be a ceasefire, both sides have to agree to it. Just because fire has ceased doesn't make it a ceasefire. And I like that they pointed out that we can't be sure which terms will apply to what each side considers the situation to be. We've seen what happens when someone higher up in the WH speaks hastily. Folks never let it go. I applaud their decision to use caution and wonder why the media cares so much about word choice.

      November 21, 2012 at 8:44 am | Reply
  16. fgjlutrdgjutr

    JUST ASK YOURSELF WHAT IS YOU PURPOSE IF YOUR ANSWER IS TERRORISM YOU ARE LIVING A LIE

    November 20, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Reply
  17. fgjlutrdgjutr

    learn the hard way or don't learn at all its your life and you are living it just the way you want to

    November 20, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Reply
  18. Rasheed

    CNN stop blocking my comments, like you were blocking Ron Paul.

    November 20, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  19. vor

    It's obvious that everybody want Israel and more so the US to just bomb the krud out of Gaza, Iran, West Bank etc. Let me ask YOU do you truly know the whole story? I've read President Carters book and many others.. Trying looking an entire segment of your population up in two ghetos, take away all but near living conditions, destroy their schools, call any time of government they elect to be terrorists, btw owning the US Media is also helpful. Take away their crop lands, drive tanks into their streets, fly F15 overhead all day... do you think they might act up? Do you think they want a better life for their children? Israel give the Pals no option for a better life...Israel says it wants peace and then tortures the pal using the exact same type of warfare the Nazi's did to their forefathers. Somehow the US ends up paying for this, why is anybody's question. Israel does NOT want peace it wants the land and the native dead. Every few years they go in and kill a few thousand and of course blame it on the other side who have few weapons often throwing rocks at tanks. We in the US think this is ok because it's Israel... if it were any other country we would be calling it war crimes. Truly tragic...

    They have become terrorists for a reason. Without a strong military force they're reduced to terrorism as their only means of resisting occupation. How did the French, Poles, Hungarians, and Dutch resist the occupation of Hitler? If the U.S. was a militarily weak nation and a group of powerful nations decided to return America to the Native American tribes would we resort to terrorism to defeat the attempt?

    November 20, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Reply
    • Doron

      While one might think your comments are valid, let me clue you in. In 1948 the UN decided to split the land into 2 states. The Jews went on to build their states. The Arabs went to war. There was no "Palestenia nation" this was created in the past 50 years. The Arabs never accepted Israel, and chose the way of violence time and time again. That's the jist of it, though it does sound a bit simplistic. Israel withdrew from Gaza years ago only to get missiles launched at its citizens every day. Why do you not blame Egypt? They are the sponsors of Hamas, which targets citizens knowingly and deliberately. They have a border with Gaza just like Israel, yet nobody is expecting them to take control. Why? Comparing Israelis to Nazi's is pure anti semitism. israel does not round up people and put them in Gas chambers. The Arabs, on the other hand slaughter people on the streets and drag their bodies in the streets for all to see.

      November 21, 2012 at 12:05 am | Reply
      • qwerty

        doron the moron!

        November 21, 2012 at 5:27 am |
    • ky

      Too complicated, Dude! Maybe read too many Carter's books.
      But I like your example: if soem native American tribe in some native American reservation would decide to fight the Europeans/Africans/Asians occupation of their land and would motivate it by beiing locked in their reservation getto with lower socioeconimical status. Moreover would fire rockets covering 40% of US population under permanent threat of bombardment... Not sure for how long it would last till the whole tribe would be wiped out of the land and not sure with how many civilian casulties...
      So, please don't preach.
      Ah, just to remind you, the buses blowing up killing civilians in Israel (did they just missed their target then?)
      Or maybe it was different Hamas that time?

      November 21, 2012 at 2:42 am | Reply
    • ky

      Another one, cannnot hold it....
      Rocks on the tanks? Or maybe anti-tank missiles on the school bus the other day?
      Common folks, you are just so very naive...Have you ever been to the region or just read Jimmy Carter's books to get so much educated about the history of the conflict?

      November 21, 2012 at 2:46 am | Reply
  20. American Thinker

    AIPAC runs American foreign policy regarding the Middle East. No US politician would dare say anything about Israel short of pledging full support. -

    November 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Reply
    • CharlieSeattle

      The US supports all Democracies that wish to defend their freedom.

      F$#& all the radial Islamic fascist theocracies.

      November 20, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Reply
      • Rasheed

        Hamas was elected democratically. Ahmadinejad was elected democratically. To americans democracy means a system of government that wouild worship america, israel and jews.

        November 20, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • John

      Except Ron Paul and we all saw how Israel's lapdogs in the media treated him. america needs to divorce Israel!

      November 20, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Reply
      • Rasheed

        CNN at the top of the nervous wrecks when Paul came out strong. Also CNN is blocking or delaying my posts.

        November 20, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
      • Doron

        Yeah, the Hamas loves America. Get a life.

        November 21, 2012 at 12:08 am |
      • ky

        Hamas was elected democratically. Ahmadinejad was elected democratically... Let's continue: Hitler was also elected democratically. Does it make any sense to you? When Gazan's will love thir children more than they hate Israelis (and I must admit, Jews) the peace will come to the region. But looks like it is a long way to go yet...By the way, did you see Isreli police dragging the body of Israeli arab from Acre that placed a Palesinian flag on the tower of the old city in mid of the armed conflict? Sorry you probably missed it...But I did see Hamas humanists dragging their betrayer body over the strets of Gaza - such an expression of democracy huh? The society should grow up a little to deserve the Democracy.

        November 21, 2012 at 2:31 am |
      • Sharjeel

        @ ky:
        "Hamas was elected democratically. Ahmadinejad was elected democratically... Let's continue: Hitler was also elected democratically" let's continue: bush was elected democratically, clinton was elected democratically, obama was elected democratically n blah blah blah. what is your point?
        "By the way, did you see Isreli police dragging the body of Israeli arab from Acre that placed a Palesinian flag on the tower of the old city in mid of the armed conflict? Sorry you probably missed it...But I did see Hamas humanists dragging their betrayer body over the strets of Gaza – such an expression of democracy huh? The society should grow up a little to deserve the Democracy."
        good to know that you were roaming the streets of Israel/Palestine and saw the atrocities committed by the Palestinians firsthand. Also glad to know that all israelis are a bunch of tree hugging hippies who do not have their military ranked in the top 50 of the world strength and capability wise. I am sure they all peed in their pants while sitting in an armoured tank when a palestinian threw rocks at them.
        Did my previous para annoyed you? People like you and i only watch these people suffer through the eyes of media and have no clue what is actually happening. My point is: please do not just watch one sided stories and do not believe everything media shows you. What is known as the American Revolutionary War in USA was just a colonial rebellion for the Brits. Just like the 1857 War of Independence for the sub-continent is called the Indian Mutiny by the Brits. Just because both the parties won their respective wars led to it being called war of Independence. If either had lost, it would have only been remembered as a mutiny.

        November 21, 2012 at 5:30 am |
    • Doron

      And thank god for that. Hamas is al Qaeda is Jihad. 9/11 was not brought on by AIPAC

      November 21, 2012 at 12:07 am | Reply
    • HERBERT

      The problem is not Israel but the USA whose foreugn policy make the Arab nations look ridiculous. USA sells arms both to Israel and arabs and know exactly how to advise israel the strengths and weakness of these Arabs militaries. What are the Arab nations crying about? Urgent meetings to do what. Iran is very foresighted and avoided being blinded into the same sack and nowonder it becomes the enemy of the west and israel. Once you find the west and israel making noise there is something brilliant u are are doing that threatens the silo where the other middle east countries hwve been lumped. The only way to contain israel is to allow Iran to balance the military strength, and then can u thinkof starting to talk to isrealis on equal terms . Without that the Arabs will face the arrogance from Tel Aviv and will continue to condemn their actions and declare solidarity with the palestinians whilst Israel continue to butcher inm,ates in an open jail called GAZA.

      November 21, 2012 at 11:36 am | Reply
  21. CharlieSeattle

    Hamas is running short of rockets.

    Ceasefire! Ceasefire! Ceasefire!

    Please Israel,while Iran rearms us. Don't attack, we will be busy at the smuggling tunnels.

    lololololol

    November 20, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Reply
    • hh

      Did you read the news?
      Yesterdays was not really the best day for Israel in this operation so far.

      November 21, 2012 at 4:45 am | Reply
  22. tfghhfethj

    WHAT IS THE B S ABOUT HALAL MEAT ALL ABOUT

    November 20, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Reply
    • Rasheed

      It's about Kosher BS

      November 20, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Reply
      • Doron

        Hey Rashhed, go live in Iran. You would love their "democratic" system. You would be hanged for posting on Western web sites. You are totally clueless. My guess is that you arena American citizen, enjoying the American good life, but you do not share the American values of freedom and democracy. You want the US to be under Sharia law. Am I off base here? Only in America can you express your opinions freely, regardless of how warped they are, as it is in your case.

        November 21, 2012 at 12:18 am |

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