(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's meetings today with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice occur against the background of two important developments: a new UN Security Council resolution on Iran and a new US push for constructive action by the Arab states on a Mideast peace process. These two advances are intimately related and should be encouraged.
As US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns pointed out, the new Security Council resolution significantly tightens the sanctions previously imposed on Iran, which themselves were more effective than imagined. Significantly, the vote was 15 to 0, including Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, Qatar, an Arab country, and South Africa, which had been helping Iran diplomatically.
One new sanction is a prohibition on Iranian weapons exports.
As Burns explained: "So it will now be a Chapter 7 UN imperative that Iran does not have the right to transfer arms to Hizbullah or to Hamas or to Syria, to any state or any terrorist organization. This is highly significant because Iran has used this arms supply relationship in the attempt that Iran is clearly involved in with Hizbullah to unseat the Saniora government... and clearly arming Hamas as a weapon against Fatah as well as against Israel. And so we frankly feel this is probably the most significant of the new sanctions and it's highly encouraging that everyone has agreed to it on a 15-0 basis."
In other words, the UN has now instituted a backdoor method for sanctioning Iran's rampant use of terrorism as proxy warfare. Until now, the sanctions process was tied only to Iran's nuclear program. Now Iran can be sanctioned for its international aggression as well which, after all, violates the UN Charter even more directly than its nuclear activities.
The other major positive development is that Rice has added a critical new plank to American diplomacy. In a press roundtable on Friday before leaving for this region, she said: "It is absolutely the case that I see the Israeli-Palestinian issue as having to be augmented by... and, in fact, you could even say, it's embedded in a broader Arab-Israeli reconciliation. ...what I believe is very important is that all parties in the international community, and that includes the Arab states, should recognize in order to get to... a Palestinian state and an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you need the energy and the help of moving forward on the Arab-Israeli side not at the end of the process but earlier in the process." (emphasis added)
It is blazingly clear, in a context where Israel has amply demonstrated its desire for a two-state solution and the Palestinians are too weak and radicalized to accept the state they have supposedly been fighting for, that the Arab states need to do their part. Add in the fact the Arab states want the West to isolate Iran, and Iran is fueling the Arab-Israeli conflict in order to distract and intimidate the West into inaction, and suddenly the case for pressing the Arab states to lead toward peace becomes even more compelling.
Not surprisingly, the Arab states are resisting such pressure and are so far rejecting the ideas of modifying the 2002 Beirut initiative (the Saudi plan) and of taking steps toward normalizing relations with Israel now. The US, however, should not be dissuaded, because this is the only approach that has a chance of producing real movement toward peace.
Ban Ki-moon, who plans to attend the Arab summit later this week, can also help. His predecessor, Kofi Annan, hinted that the Palestinians must drop their demand of a right to move to Israel if there ever is to be peace. If the new secretary-general said the same thing less cryptically he would give Palestinian and Arab moderates a great boost, as well as encouraging Arab states to show more leadership toward peace. If the US, Europe, and the UN want the Arab states to more boldly lead the Palestinians toward moderation, they need to undermine radical Arab positions that are obstructing peace by openly rejecting such positions themselves.