"There is nothing new under the sun." This old adage from Ecclesiastes came to mind repeatedly this week as Palestinian violence threatened a third intifada in Jerusalem and a U.N. council decision to put off action on the controversial Goldstone report created an intra-Palestinian firestorm.
Though seemingly unrelated, these developments -- all coming at the height of the Jewish holiday season -- further erode any semblance of hope that the Palestinians are more interested in peace than posturing.
The rioting that enveloped Jerusalem during the past week was frighteningly reminiscent of the tensions that set off the second intifada in September 2000. The clashes began on Yom Kippur eve, when some 150 Arabs stoned visitors to the Temple Mount. Ironically, the intended target of their wrath apparently were members of a fringe group of Jews who want to create the Third Temple, but who had been barred by Israeli police from the holy site for fear of angering Arabs.
The violence resurfaced this week when Israel restricted access to the Temple Mount while thousands of Jewish pilgrims visited the Western Wall for Sukkot observances.
"We will liberate Al Aksa with blood and fire," Islamic leader Sheik Ra'ad Salah said, referring to the mosque on the Temple Mount. "We call on the Palestinian public to confront Israel and its plans," Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayad said in a statement Monday.
Israeli authorities downplayed talk of another Palestinian uprising, saying that tensions often mount around Sukkot. But the violence persisted -- and, some suggested, was even encouraged as a means of deflecting criticism from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was taking heat for reportedly asking the U.N. Human Rights Council to delay a vote on the Goldstone report that accuses both Israel and Hamas of war crimes during last winter's war in Gaza.
Abbas' move was seen as a response to pressure from the United States and Israel, which warned that the 49-member council's adoption of the report could torpedo efforts to relaunch Middle East peace talks. But Abbas has come under fire from Palestinians and Arabs throughout the region for his decision.
We know from the not-so-distant past that unquelled Palestinian violence can often spiral out of control. A renewed cycle of violence can serve no purpose, least of all for the Palestinians.
With a president in the White House willing to go to new lengths to get Israel and the Arabs to make a deal, the Palestinians have their best opportunity in years to get serious about peace. The question is whether they are looking for a new day. Or whether the words of Ecclesiastes will prevail: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."