Gates: Turmoil needs ‘bold action’ by Israel, Palestinians

The turmoil in the Middle East creates a need for “bold action” by Israel and the Palestinians toward peace, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

“I know there may be a temptation during this time of great uncertainty in the region to be more cautious about pursuing the peace process, but in my meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, I carry a different message: that there is a need and an opportunity for bold action to move toward a two-state solution,” Gates said Thursday at a Tel Aviv press conference with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak.

Barak, in his remarks, did not mention the peace talks, which have been stalled since autumn, when the Palestinians walked out because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not extend a settlements freeze.

Instead, Barak said Israel would continue responding to the recent increase in rocket fire from Gaza.

“We will respond,” Barak said.  “We have to respond. And we are determined to bring back tranquility to the region. And unfortunately, this tough neighborhood, it cannot be done without the readiness and practice of using, from time to time, force.”

Barak said Israel was watching closely the wave of uprisings sweeping the region, but was confident that Egypt would maintain the peace, after longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak was deposed.

“I have a reason to believe that as long as the Egyptian armed forces are in power, they’re a major pillar of stability within Egypt,” he said. “The peace agreement, as well as other Egyptian international commitments, will be respected and kept.”

Gates was slated to meet Friday with Netanyahu and with Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority prime minister.