As news reports emerged Tuesday of a cease-fire or truce to end the crisis in Gaza, American officials made it a point not to use either of those terms.
Instead, U.S. officials were talking about “de-escalating” the violence in Gaza as a step toward a long-term resolution.
Briefing White House reporters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes repeatedly said “de-escalation” was the goal for ending the violence in Gaza and Israel.
When asked if he was avoiding using the term “cease-fire,” Rhodes said, ”No, I mean, there are many ways that you can achieve the goal of a de-escalation.” He added, ” 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. ”
At the State Department briefing earlier in the day, spokesperson Victoria Nuland was also using “de-escalation.”
Nuland was asked several times why she was using that term instead of “ceasefire” or “truce.” She indicated it was because the State Department did not want to get into characterizing acceptable terminology. “I’m not going to characterize X is acceptable, Y is not acceptable. That’s a subject for negotiation,” she said.
Furthermore, she said, “because the parties are talking, we’re going to be part of that, and we’re not going to negotiate it here from the podium. We’re not going to characterize it here from the podium.”
The message she did want to get across was that “any de-escalation is a step forward.”
Of the long-term aims of Secretary of State Clinton’s last minute mission to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo, Nuland said you “obviously start with a de-escalation of this conflict.” From there, “we have to see an end to the rocket fire on Israel. We have to see a restoration of calm in Gaza. And the hope is that if we can get through those stages, that will create space for the addressing of broader issues, but I don’t want to prejudge. This is obviously ongoing and live diplomacy.”
Before her meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Clinton too avoided using the term “cease-fire.”
After describing America’s commitment to Israel’s security as “rock-solid and unwavering,” Clinton said, “That is why we believe it is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza.”
Clinton said that the rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza “must end and a broader calm restored.” She added that the focus was on ”a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”