A cease-fire held for the second day Wednesday, giving Israel and Hamas their best chance yet for ending the ruinous war in Gaza. While durable peace is far from assured, the temporary truce opens a window for addressing the immediate concerns of both sides, from rebuilding Gaza to ensuring Israel's need for border security. The United States and other moderate players in the international community, who were sidelined in the fighting, should step up now to help negotiate a solution to ending the violence that has killed too many innocents.
The cease-fire halting the monthlong war gave way to the opening round of talks in Cairo on a longer-lasting border deal. Hamas still does not fully accept Egypt as a fair mediator in the aftermath of the military ouster of Egypt's Islamist president. But the Palestinian militant group at least recognized it needed a bigger player than Qatar or Turkey to convert any battlefield gains into leverage with the west. And Israel accepted that its days of punishing Hamas militarily are numbered and wants to stem international pressure over the disproportionate pain being inflicted on Gaza's civilians. For now, at least, practicality has trumped the worst impulses on both sides. It's not much. But a cessation of hostilities provides breathing room for immediate humanitarian aid and a more stable security arrangement.
Any path forward must include substantive guarantees for both sides. For Hamas, that means a timetable for easing the crippling border restrictions that have left Gaza economically starved and politically isolated. Israel needs reassurance that its border areas are safe from the threat of Hamas missile strikes and ambush attacks through cross-border tunnels. Norway announced that it would organize a donors' conference as soon as September, which could be a vehicle for reconstructing schools, power and water plants and other day-to-day essentials in Gaza. The more moderate Palestinian Authority could play a helpful part by extending its reach beyond the West Bank, forming a unity government with Hamas.
These ideas do not fall together as cleanly in practice as they do on paper. Hamas is emboldened by the fighting with Israel and its military wing remains in place. The toll of death and despair from the war will increase international attention on Israel. The Palestinian Authority has yet to prove its domestic popularity or administrative competence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu irritated the United States with his government's harsh criticism of the Obama administration's efforts to broker a cease-fire. And Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the United States and Israel, is struggling to find a role, a strategy and a benefactor.
Still, the cease-fire presents a major opportunity for both sides to step away from the fight and to find a security arrangement that provides a building block for the future. The Obama administration was right to press for a halt to the war early on, and it should redouble its efforts at a political solution that gives Israel security and the Palestinians a chance. That dream may seem far away, but the last month shows that all-out war is not the answer.