By Ray Fleming

BAN Ki-moon is now at the start of his fourth year as Secretary-General of the United Nations. It cannot be said that thus far he has made much of a mark in what is one of the most difficult jobs in the world.

Everyone expects the holder of the office to be the cheer-leader for an orderly, just and peaceful world yet he cannot act without the approval of the UN's member states, especially the five who hold a veto on the Security Council.

Over the past two days, however, Mr Ban has shown some signs of having found a cause that he can make his own -- helping to bring a peaceful end to the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

At the meeting of the Quartet -- UN, EU, Russia, US -- on Friday and during his visit yesterday to Ramallah in the Palestinian West Bank he spoke forcefully at press conferences about the responsibilities that the two sides now have for negotiating a settlement.

It makes sense that the UN should play a bigger role while recognising the special relationship that exists between the United States and Israel. Mr Ban left no room for doubt about the central agreement of the Quartet that “All settlement activity anywhere in occupied territory is illegal and must stop”. Recognition of this fact by Israel, difficult as it will be after refuting it since 1967, is now the key to progress.