THE cease-fire that existed between Israel and Hamas, the dominant Palestinian group, came to an end last week.
Hamas does not intend to extend or renew the truce, although it has not said that it will escalate hostilities. Israel points out that rockets continue to be launched from Gaza, Hamas' stronghold, into Israel. Hamas argues that it allowed the ceasefire to expire because Israel has continued to blockade trade and travel into and out of Gaza, thus violating its part of the agreement.
Both sides' unhelpful positions increase the pressure on the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama to attach a high priority to putting its considerable new international muscle behind the effort to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. There are already strong, informed private elements working on a draft comprehensive plan that the Obama administration could take as its starting point in seeking to solve that old, difficult issue. It remains key to improving Western-Muslim relations and to achieving regional and world peace.
One barrier to fruitful negotiations is the Israeli election, scheduled to take place sometime in February. The result would put in place an Israeli negotiating team that could then negotiate meaningfully with the Palestinians. There is some concern that right-wing Likud candidate Benjamin Netanyahu will win. On the other hand, just as it took President Richard M. Nixon to open the U.S. door to Communist China, it could be Mr. Netanyahu who ultimately could lead the Israelis into cutting a deal with the Palestinians.
On the Palestinian side, the problem remains the division among them between Fatah and Hamas, roughly based in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. The United States, following the Israeli lead, has continued under the Bush Administration to try to isolate and thus strangle Hamas in the crib, with no success. Mr. Obama could cut through that Gordian knot in a minute by promptly sending his nominee for secretary of state, Sen. Hillary Clinton, to Gaza to talk with Hamas.
If Mrs. Clinton were to do that, she, in effect, would be picking up where her husband, President Bill Clinton, left off in 2000 in trying to achieve a Middle East peace settlement. It is hard to imagine a more crowning achievement for her as secretary of state, or for Mr. Obama as president, in terms of resolving long-standing, very difficult foreign affairs issues, than working out an Israeli-Palestinian accord.