Rocket fire into southern Israel and Israel's retaliatory attacks into the Gaza Strip are escalating into something perilously close to a border war. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is expected in the region next week, has demanded an end to the unprovoked Hamas rocket fire. But unless an effort is made to broker a cease-fire, the violence will overshadow her trip and squelch any reason to talk about a peace deal.
The Palestinian architects of this mayhem predictably have scored a tactical win: They have succeeded in intensifying the scope of Israel's military involvement - at the expense of their own people - and underscored the inability of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to do anything about it.
And while Israel's strategic airstrikes have resulted in the deaths of at least a dozen militants and destroyed the office of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, Palestinian civilians, including children, have been killed as well. An Israeli college student suffered a fatal shrapnel wound in the city of Sderot this week, with most residents there living a dodge-and-duck existence as a daily barrage of rockets rain down on them.
Ms. Rice can't possibly advance peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mr. Abbas in this environment. Mr. Abbas has called for an end to the merciless rocket fire from Gaza, but it's an empty demand because he has no influence with its Hamas sponsors. Mr. Olmert, as we would expect, has said Israel's airstrikes will spare no one in the Hamas organization, and his defense minister had warned of a possible military incursion into the Gaza Strip, which would be playing into Hamas' hands.
President Bush's plan - push - to resolve some aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate before he leaves office doesn't have a chance of moving forward if the situation in the Gaza Strip is not addressed. And that means dealing in some way with Hamas leaders who have controlled the area since last June, when its fighters routed supporters of Mr. Abbas. Ms. Rice should reach out to U.S. allies in the Arab world for help in intervening with Hamas despite the skepticism of some voiced recently that the two-state solution - the bedrock of the U.S. peace plan - will ever materialize. It may not be how she planned to spend her week in the region, but it's doubtful that she can avoid it.