The renewed violence Tuesday between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas hurled civilians on both long-suffering sides toward a deadly new crisis. Israel and the Palestinians need to halt the fighting and tamp down public emotions that are threatening to sweep up even younger generations into a new round of reprisal attacks. The Obama administration should work quickly to put a durable cease-fire in place. Only then can the region begin to address the fundamental grievances that stand in the way of security.
There was no sign Tuesday of a peaceful way forward. Though Israel unilaterally adhered to a cease-fire arranged by Egypt, the break in hostilities quickly ended after Hamas rejected the plan and fired dozens of additional rockets into Israeli territory. Nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed in a week of fighting, and Israel suffered its first death Tuesday on the border near Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had no choice but to resume hostilities after Hamas rejected the cease-fire. Hamas sees the fighting as a means to force Israel to loosen its grip on the beleaguered territory, and as an exercise in unity that could restore the group's popular standing among Palestinians.
But a war of attrition that leaves mounting civilian casualties is no way to cut a path toward peace. Israel has left open its willingness to abide by a cease-fire, but it also signaled Tuesday that it wanted a longer-term solution from the rockets in Gaza that might require hitting hard at Hamas' military capability. Hamas looks to be testing its international support and the appetite among its people for a tougher approach in dealing with Israel. The world community faces a formidable challenge in ending hostilities before they turn worse, and there is no clear way forward. But if it does not succeed or at least buy time, the result will be more suffering and a hardening of attitudes that make the prospects for peace more distant.
That this violence erupted after Palestinians kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers and a Palestinian boy was abducted, beaten and burned to death in apparent retaliation shows how deeply the next generation of these neighboring societies are scarred by the ongoing violence.
A cease-fire is the first step in stopping the killing, the public clamor for retribution and the physical damage on both sides. A sustainable pact will require the Palestinians to renounce violence and Israel to relax its crippling restrictions on Gaza. But those talks cannot take place alongside escalating hostilities that threaten to become an all-out war.
The United States and its partners should work quickly before the impact on civilians and refugees makes the humanitarian crisis even worse — and harder to manage.