Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, while at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to receive the Liberty Medal, criticized Israel again, but is opposed to the unilateral declaration of of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations. Gates, who is the first US Secretary of Defense to visit Ramallah, said, "Israel is now alone in the Middle East. Israel has made mistakes. They are having trouble with Egypt. They have alienated Turkey. They assassinated a Hamas leader in the United Arab Emirates."
He blamed their isolation on the settlements. He explained, "The Arabs are angry about the settlements. Every American President has urged stopping the settlements because each new settlement makes it harder to define the borders."
He dismissed concerns about the right wing coalition of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. "I have known Netanyahu since 1990: Barak since he was chief of staff of the Army. I was with Carter at the Camp David Talks. In my five decades of dealing with Israel, I have seen that peace can only take a major step forward on the Israeli side with conservative leaders -(Menachem) Begin, (Yitzhak)Shamir, (Ariel)Sharon before his stroke."
Gates, who has taken the oath to protect the Constitution 7 times, believes that there can only be progress in the peace negotiations "with aggressive American leadership."
When asked about the upcoming vote on the unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, Gates responds, "You have to ask if this advances or hurt the cause of peace. It hurts."
He continued, "Which set of Palestinians does this represent? Is it the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority is in control and security forces have been trained by the US and cooperate with Israel. Or Gaza, which wants the destruction of Israel."
As for Hezbollah, he reminded the audience that "they had more rockets than most countries."