Almost like a medieval knight in the Crusades, Israeli hardline politician Ariel Sharon - backed up by 1,000 soldiers - swept onto a Muslim holy site in Jerusalem last Thursday.
This startling visit by a man who led Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon was a forceful reminder of the desire by many Israelis to take full control of what Jews call the Temple Mount (Judaism's holiest site) and what Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary (Islam's third-holiest site).
But the Sharon visit ended up being a political provocation that's ignited the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence in four years.
Once again, stone-throwing Palestinians have been gunned down by Israeli soldiers, while the United States as Mideast mediator fails to brings its authority to bear. (See story on page 1.)
Many Americans may think such violence is too distant and cyclical to care about. But Israel's actions run the risk of angering Saudi Arabia just when that Arab oil giant is trying to bring down and stabilize world oil prices. And they prolong a half-century conflict that fans anti-Americanism in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.
Mr. Sharon's visit appeared aimed at ending talks between Israel and the Palestinians over how to share control of Jerusalem's holy sites. In recent weeks, both sides have discussed fresh ideas on this emotional issue, including possible United Nations control of the sites.
But the fact that Prime Minister Ehud Barak condoned the visit, and likely provided security, may be the most disturbing lesson from this incident.
Israel's display of force, both during the Sharon visit and in the aftermath, touched a Palestinian belief that Israel has no intention to withdraw from Arab territories it occupied after the 1967 war, as called for by the UN.
And the Israelis are also frustrated that Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat appears unwilling to do more to restrain the youthful uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Both sides need to foreswear provocation and violence for the peace talks to succeed.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society