UNITED NATIONS — The State of Palestine was formally handed on Thursday the presidency of the Group of 77, the largest bloc of developing nations at the UN.
The event took place minutes before Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was to take the podium at the UN General Assembly, for a speech in which he was expected to harshly attack Israel.
Palestine — which is not a member state of the UN but has observer state status — was chosen in July to head the so-called G77 plus China, a consortium now consisting of 134 nations that often speaks in one voice at the UN General Assembly, starting January 1, 2019. On Thursday, that decision was confirmed.
Abbas, speaking from his seat in the back of the room, promised that his government “will bear its responsibility and perform its duties in all honesty and integrity and in a manner that deserves the trust of the members of G77.”
He said Palestine was committed to work with all members and secretariat of the group. He did not mention Israel or other regional issues in his brief remarks.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who as outgoing president presided over the Thursday’s ministerial meeting, congratulated “my brother” Abbas on the confirmation.
In lieu of a formal vote, which will be held later, Sissi asked the forum if it supported handing the gavel to Abbas, a query which was met by a loud round of confirmative applause from delegates.
“I assure you that Egypt, along with all members of the group, will fully support the chairmanship of Palestine, We’re convinced that Palestine will advance the interests of all member states,” he said at the meeting, held at the conference hall of the UN Economic and Social Council.
Ecuador’s Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, who presides over the current session of the General Assembly, noted that the Group of 77 comprises nearly three-quarters of UN members states, and about 80 percent of the world’s population.
The bloc has an “extremely important role of maintaining multilateralism, which never before since its establishment has it faced such challenges, such threats.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres hailed the G77 as a “champion of multilateralism” and addressed at some length the challenges of the developing world, but did not mention Palestine’s election to the bloc’s presidency.
The G77 was originally founded in 1964 with 77 countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Thailand, and India. Over the years it has grown to include countries such as South Africa, Qatar, Cuba, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Singapore, and Angola.
In July, when Palestine’s possible election was first reported, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon expressed misgivings about the move.
“The goal of the Group of 77 originally was to facilitate the economic advancement of underdeveloped nations,” he told The Times of Israel. “It is unfortunate that it will now become a platform for spreading lies and incitement. This will not promote the G77’s goals, and encourages the Palestinians to not engage in negotiations for peace.”