Palestinians assume chairmanship of largest bloc of nations at the UN

Taking charge of Group of 77, which encompasses 134 developing countries, Abbas slams Israel’s ‘occupation of the state of Palestine,’ condemns ‘terrorism in all its forms’

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the Group of 77 on January 15, 2019 at the United Nations in New York (Don Emmert/AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the Group of 77 on January 15, 2019 at the United Nations in New York (Don Emmert/AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas assumed the chairmanship of the largest bloc of countries at the United Nations on behalf of “the State of Palestine” on Tuesday in New York City.

The Palestinians are slated to serve as the leader of the bloc, known as the Group of 77, for the next year.

In a speech at the UN headquarters, Abbas called the task of leading the Group of 77 “a great responsibility.”

“I am pleased to take over today the chairmanship of the Group of 77 on behalf of the Palestinian people and the State of Palestine,” he said, addressing the bloc. “It is a great responsibility that the State of Palestine will bear with complete humility, sincerity and dedication.”

The Group of 77 is a consortium of 134 developing countries that often works together in the UN General Assembly. The body 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, and currently represents some 80 percent of the world’s population.

File: The 73rd United Nations General Assembly on September 29, 2018, at the United Nations in New York. (AFP/Don Emmert)

In October 2018, the General Assembly voted by an overwhelming majority to temporarily grant Palestine additional rights and privileges, allowing it to head the Group of 77.

While it serves as the leader of the body, Palestine will be able to cosponsor proposals and amendments, make statements, and raise procedural motions.

In October, both Israel and the United States expressed strong opposition to granting the Palestinians extra rights at the UN.

Abbas told the Group of 77 on Tuesday that Israel was hindering development in the Middle East, and called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

“Israel’s continued colonization and occupation of the State of Palestine undermines our development and capacity for cooperation, coordination and obstructs the cohesive future development of all peoples of the region,” he told the gathering.

Abbas also stated that the Palestinians “are committed to international law and legitimacy and the peaceful resolution of the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict.”

In late December, the PA president said the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership is prepared to reenter a peace process with Israel based on international law and United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (L) speaks with Syria’s Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari before meeting of the United Nations Group of 77 and China January 15, 2019 at the United Nations in New York (Don EMMERT / AFP)

In his remarks on Tuesday, he also condemned terrorism “in all its forms, colors, and types” regardless of who perpetrates it.

“Terrorism is terrorism. We must all condemn it,” Abbas said.

A number of other Palestinian officials feted Palestine assuming the chairmanship of the Group of 77.

“Today President Mahmoud Abbas was handed the annual presidency of the G77. A historic step for Palestine that was made by the sacrifices of our people and their long struggle for freedom,” Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, said in a statement.

“Such recognition signifies the recognition of the international community of Palestinian statehood and our right to self-determination,” he said. “Despite the reality under Israel’s military occupation, Palestine can play a significant role within the global system.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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