Israel Welcomes New U.N. Chief As Council Probes Housing Units

Israel has welcomed the appointment of Kofi Annan of Ghana as the next secretary-general of the United Nations.

Of all the candidates considered, “Annan is the best for Israel,” said Yitzhak Lior, deputy director general for international organizations at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

But Annan’s appointment Tuesday by the General Assembly took place against the bleak backdrop of closed-door consultations by the U.N. Security Council over Israel’s proposed construction of 132 housing units for Jews in Ras al-Amud, in eastern Jerusalem.

Last week, Jerusalem’s planning board approved the project, which Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat has protested, calling it a “serious breach” of the Israeli-Palestinian accords.

The Security Council was responding to concern expressed by the Palestine Liberation Organization’s U.N. observer.

David Peleg, Israel’s acting ambassador to the United Nations, was scheduled to meet late Tuesday afternoon with Security Council President Francesco Fulci of Italy to respond to the concern.

“If the response by the Israeli government is not going to be satisfactory, the members of the council reserve [the right] to take up the matter again,” Fulci reportedly said.

Meanwhile, Peleg has praised Annan, a long-time international civil servant, who is slated to replace Boutros Boutros-Ghali on Jan. 1. “He was always professional. He’s very balanced.”

As undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, Annan was involved in the U.N. report in the spring that followed the investigation into the deaths by Israeli missiles of more than 90 refugees at a U.N. base in southern Lebanon.

The report was highly critical of Israel, but Peleg defended Annan as a “moderating force” on the body that issued the findings.

Annan drew the attention of the U.S. Congress a year ago when he skillfully presided over the transfer of the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia from the United Nations to NATO.

Annan, 58, who will be the first black African to hold the job, will have stewardship of an organization plagued by debt and seen as in desperate need for reform.

His election follows a bitter, unsuccessful bid for re-election by Boutros- Ghali, an Egyptian, who was staunchly opposed by the United States.

For his part, Boutros-Ghali has congratulated Annan, saying that he was pleased that Africa had been able to retain the office of secretary-general for a second five-year term.

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