In his December 29 press conference, describing U.S. goals with respect to Gaza, Deputy Press Secretary Gordon Johndroe used the term “sustainable ceasefire” or “sustainable and durable ceasefire” no less than ten times. Reporters did not ask him to define the term, but they did the next day during his December 30 press conference:
Q How exactly is the United States trying to recreate the ceasefire to make it sustainable and durable? What’s the difference between an immediate ceasefire and one that is sustainable and durable? It sounds like, kind of, semantics.
MR. JOHNDROE: No, I think a ceasefire that is sustainable and durable, what we’ve been calling for, is one that is exactly that — it’s lasting. We don’t just want a ceasefire for the sake of a ceasefire, only for violence to start up immediately, or within the next few weeks. That serves no one’s interest, as President Bush discussed with Prime Minister Fayyad, and –
Q But how do you know that it would be lasting?
MR. JOHNDROE: We have got to get a commitment from Hamas that they would respect any ceasefire and make it lasting and durable. And so until we can get that assurance — not the United States, but until Israel can get that assurance from Hamas — then we’re not going to have a ceasefire that is worth the paper it’s written on.
A “commitment” from Hamas, however, is not going to be worth the paper it’s written on, particularly if Hamas receives, in exchange for the “commitment,” concessions that would effectively strengthen its position as it prepares for the next fight.
A better guide to the meaning of a “sustainable and durable ceasefire” can be found in the answer Condoleezza Rice gave at a July 16, 2006 press briefing at the start of the Second Lebanon War, when she was asked why the United States did not simply call for an immediate ceasefire. She explained “the real goal here is . . . to bring an end to the violence in a way that is going to be sustainable”:
SECRETARY RICE: . . . I can tell you right now if violence ends on the basis of somehow Hezbollah or Hamas continuing to hold in their hands the capabilities anytime they wish to start launching rockets again into Israel . . . if violence ends on the basis of Syria and Iran being able to turn on the key again anytime, we will have achieved very, very little, indeed, and we will be right back here, perhaps in a worse circumstance because the terrorists will assume that nobody is willing to take on what has been a very clear assault. . . .
Two and a half years later, Hezbollah has more than doubled the amount of rockets it had prior to the war. The UN force inserted to police the ceasefire did not prevent the re-arming of Hezbollah, nor will it prevent the re-launching of rockets if and when Hezbollah decides.
In fact, the conclusion of that war — complete with a “binding” UN resolution and a UN force – led to the creation on Israel’s southern border of exactly the “worse circumstance” Rice described. Hamas assumed (correctly) that nobody would take on an even clearer assault: year after year of rockets on Israeli civilians.
To use the standard Rice set forth in 2006, a sustainable and durable ceasefire is one during which Hamas does not continue “to hold in their hands the capabilities anytime they wish to start launching rockets again into Israel.” It requires the practical disarmament of Hamas and the permanent elimination of tunnels or other means of smuggling or rearmament.
Anything less will be a ceasefire, but not a sustainable and durable one.