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Meeks, Ackerman, Weiner have high hopes for Abbas

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"I'm hopeful right now, but time is going to tell," said U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) about the election of Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas is considered to be a moderate who wants to make peace with Israel. Meeks was praised by leaders of various Jewish groups attending the meeting as being in support of Israel and Jewish issues despite the fact that his black constituents in southeast Queens do not always support that view."(Meeks) takes an outspoken position on Israel even though it is unpopular in his community," said Jane Schulman, chairwoman of the Queens Coalition for Israel Action. "He is a true leader." Meeks was joined at the meeting by fellow Congressmen Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) and Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), who has indicated that he plans to run for mayor.Meeks said that with the change in power in the Palestinian government and Abbas' actions during his short stint as prime minister prior to Yassar Arafat's death, he was hopeful there could be a chance for peace. While serving as prime minister, Abbas had met with Arafat to try to quell retaliatory violence in the region, but Arafat refused, leading Abbas to resign over his lack of power."He did not want to be utilized as a puppet, he resigned as prime minister," said Meeks. "That gives me today a sense of hope because now he has the opportunity to put his actions in word. That's what weighs in the balance"Meeks went on to say an important step toward creating a "warmer peace" in the Middle East is to have regional powers, including Egypt and Jordan, become part of the process, Ackerman also praised Meeks for his support of Jewish issues in Congress in light of tensions between Jewish and black communities in the past and because of the fact U.S. aid to Israel outweighs the total amount given to all 63 African countries combined."Foreign aid in my district is a local issue," said Ackerman.Ackerman said there is reason to be "cautiously optimistic, maybe even cautiously enthusiastic" about the election of Abbas."He is a refreshing difference from the persona of Yassar Arafat," said Ackerman. "(Abbas) was the only person in Arafat's entourage, the only person, who stood up to him and told him that if they resorted to the tactics of the intifada, that it would be a disaster." Ackerman said it takes a lot of courage to take that position in the Middle East, but added that the proof would have to "be in the pudding" "There's some hope here," said Ackerman. "Should we be overly optimistic? Well, it is the Middle East we're talking about." Another subject Ackerman touched on was what he called the "Christianization" of America. He said people on television now label America as a Christian country. He added the pundits lump everyone together with the term Judeo-Christian because of Christian and Jewish shared belief in the Ten Commandments. "Don't be fooled into a false sense of security with that language," said Ackerman. "The separation of church and state is a key issue to the survival of the small Jewish community in America." He said the founding fathers had included references to God in the Declaration of Independence, but had purposely left references out of the Constitution, the law governing the nation. Last to speak was Weiner, who used his time to echo many of the same things Meeks and Ackerman had said about being cautiously optimistic about the new Palestinian leadership. He noted that since Arafat's death, a Gallup poll said optimism about the chances for peace have risen 40 percent in Israel. "It tells you that even they, despite all the rhetoric, even the Palestinian people recognize what an obstacle he was," said Weiner. Weiner led off his speech by blasting Arab nations for what he called a "paltry response" in donations to help areas devastated by the tsunami ''despite the wealth that they possess." Reach reporter Peter A. Sutters Jr. by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext 173.

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