Many Muslims and Arab-Americans in North Jersey say they doubt that today’s summit on the Mideast will lead to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

They do not believe that Israel is ready to make concessions on a Palestinian state, borders and sovereignty over Jerusalem. And without those concessions, they say, hopes to end the bloody conflict in the region will remain doomed.

“Before they’ve even started talking, the Israeli side came out and made a statement that we shouldn’t expect much from this,” said Mohammad Abassi, a Kinnelon resident born in Jordan to Palestinian parents. “The Israelis are not ready to talk about the six million Palestinian refugees who have no state.”

The talks are being held today in Annapolis, Md. Preparatory moves took place Monday, when President Bush met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Leaders from 40 countries, including Syria and Saudi Arabia, are expected to attend the summit, where U.S. officials hope Israel and the Palestinians will produce a joint statement that will pave the way to negotiations on – among other things – Palestinian refugees and the future of Jerusalem.

Abassi, as well as many other Arabs and Muslims in North Jersey and elsewhere, say that peace talks must include groups such as Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is deemed a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States.

“Hamas was legitimately elected, but then the entire world was up in arms and they were forced out of office,” Abassi said. “Unless they are also sitting across the table from the Israelis, no agreement that is made will be seen as binding.”

Waheed Khalid, a past president of the Darul Islah mosque in Teaneck, echoed many of Abassi’s sentiments.

He also criticized the Bush administration for not making an attempt sooner to bring both sides together for talks.

“This administration has had no vision, no strong policy, no outlook for the Middle East,” he said. “Look at how it has handled Pakistan, the war in Iraq, Afghanistan. Bush’s actions are creating millions and millions of people in the Middle East who hate us.”

He, too, thinks the United States should include Hamas in the peace summit. He said that although the late Yasser Arafat, who led the Palestine Liberation Organization, had been widely condemned as a terrorist, he was invited to the White House and participated in peace negotiations.

“Hamas has been involved in violence, in terrorism,” Khalid said. “But we have to involve all leaders on the Palestinian side, not just the ones we like. We must tell Israel to leave the occupied lands, and the Palestinians to stop shooting their rockets. No more hostility.”

Aref Assaf, a Denville resident and president of the American Arab Forum, based in Paterson, does not expect a breakthrough.

Assaf would like to see Israel provide monetary compensation to Palestinian refugees “for the land they took and the humiliation.”

“I want an acknowledgment of the crime that was committed against my people,” said Assaf, who was born in a Palestinian refugee camp and lived there for most of his youth. (MORE)


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