The U.N. secretary-general said he hopes both Gilad Shalit and Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails will be released soon.
Hailing last week’s prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah as a positive development, Ban Ki-moon said, “I look forward to more positive moves.”
Shalit has been held captive by Hamas since he was kidnapped and taken to the Gaza Strip in a cross-border raid in June 2006.
Ban said the time for peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinians is now. “If not this, what? And if not now, when?” he said.
Ban made his remarks Monday at a Jewish farewell event in New York for Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, who will be returning to Israel at the end of this month after more than five years of service at the United Nations. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations hosted the event.
Ban was among many who offered deep praise for Gillerman’s tenure at the world body, noting the “special challenges” of representing Israel.
“Doing so is no easy task, even in the best of circumstances,” Ban said with a smile. “It doesn’t hurt to have a thick skin either.”
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, also praised Gillerman, calling him “an all-around great guy.”
Gillerman said he considers U.S. Jewish organizations “a huge multiplier of force” for Israel.
“You are the ones who make me feel that I am not alone,” he said at the event, which was attended by a number of Jewish organizational leaders. “I was representing a country I love very much and a people I admire very much and am proud to be a part of the Jewish people.”
Gillerman also called Moon “a model of fairness” and lauded him as a “true friend of Israel and the Jewish people.”
Gillerman will be succeeded by Gabriela Shalev, who is currently the rector of the Ono Academic College, near Tel Aviv.