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High politics and ordinary people

The last time the United States convened Israelis and Palestinians for peace talks, the host was a president near the end of his term, deeply immersed in the complexities of the Middle East and widely respected by leaders on both sides of the conflict. The result was not peace but Intifada — Palestinian suicide bombers blowing up kids at discotheques, pizza parlors and bus stops.

The current negotiations in Annapolis are led by a president near the end of his term who has never dealt well with complexity, enjoys limited knowledge of the dispute and has earned little trust from any foreign leader. One can only imagine what will emerge from this parley!

Summits, where leaders, elected and otherwise, negotiate in a rarefied atmosphere over concepts, documents, words and commas, are the apex of high politics. However, by divorcing leaders from led, elite action from mass attitudes, national commitments from public will, high politics at the summit can prove irrelevant.

In Annapolis, President Bush is repeating an oft-made mistake — attempting to forge peace between leaders without regard to the hearts and minds of the people they represent. We should have learned in Iraq, if nowhere else, that merely hectoring barely legitimate officials into signing statements does little to guarantee results, absent broad-based public support.

An effective roadmap to peace in this conflict must chart a course to change Palestinian public opinion.

Expertly teaching hate, a music video recently aired on the Palestinian Authority’s television station ran pictures of religious Jews walking in Jerusalem, while a Palestinian crooner belted out the lyrics, “The evil souls/ A thousand evil ones are in my home!” A new 12th-grade language textbook offers this paean to peace: “Palestine’s war ended with a catastrophe that is unprecedented in history, when the Zionist gangs stole Palestine … and established the State of Israel.”

And where are these kids learning their lessons? In schools named for terrorists. Don’t look for Abraham Lincoln Elementary or Martin Luther King High; try The Martyr Abu-Iyad School or the Dalal al-Mughrabi Girls High School. For those who don’t subscribe to the terrorist version of People, the former planned the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and of two American diplomats, while the latter hijacked a bus filled with vacationers and killed 37 civilians. A recent youth soccer tournament memorialized the name of a suicide bomber who killed 30.

Education certainly works in the Palestinian Authority. A majority of Palestinians support firing missiles into Israel, while 56 percent express support for suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. That is just four points shy of the number of Iraqis who support attacks on American soldiers.

Can anyone seriously expect “peace” made by leaders to hold when majorities on the street favor continued violence? We know the impact of that public clamor in Iraq. Imagine Canadians directing the same level of animosity toward U.S. civilians that Iraqis have toward American soldiers. Suffice it to say our northern border would have a very different look and feel.

In truth, recent years have witnessed some shift in Palestinian attitudes, with fewer now enamored of violence. It is welcome progress and hopeful change, but far too many still preach hate and practice violence. Without a fundamental alteration of public attitudes, the prospects for real peace will continue to be dim. A peace plan that fails to engage the Palestinian public is doomed.

Machiavelli is dead. Princes no longer make politics by themselves. Ordinary people can play a decisive role, and until the Palestinian people reject violence as a means of struggle, agreements reached by politicians, princes and potentates will have little staying power.