President Barack Obama was correct in sending Special Envoy George Mitchell off to the Middle East immediately to begin his quest to achieve a sustainable peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

It might have been tempting to delay Mr. Mitchell's mission pending the results of the Israeli elections, scheduled for Feb. 10. It will not be clear until some time after that date who on the Israeli side will be its interlocutor in negotiations. Israel is normally governed by coalitions and putting them together sometimes takes considerable time.

The case for urgency by Mr. Mitchell is strong. The exchange of blows Tuesday when the Palestinians set off a bomb and the Israelis responded, resulting in casualties on both sides, made it clear just how fragile the Israeli-Hamas truce in Gaza is.

During meetings with leaders of the region yesterday, the U.S. envoy emphasized the need for a "consolidated" cease-fire. Mr. Mitchell also called for an end to Hamas weapons smuggling and the reopening of Gaza's borders. The only reliable antidote to a return to fighting is establishing a credible Middle East peace process, with a positive outcome a serious prospect.

The second reason for Mr. Mitchell to engage immediately is to take quick advantage of the positive view of the new administration that the world, including Arabs and Muslims, hold. That, like the Gaza truce, is perishable and any absence of activity on America's part will raise doubts about Mr. Obama's sincerity. ...