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Palestine assumes chairmanship of G77, UN's largest bloc

At UN ceremony, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says Israel has blocked development in the occupied territories
UN General Assembly in 2017 adopted resolution granting observer-state Palestine additional rights to act as chair of G77 (AFP)

Palestine's president, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed a ceremony at the United Nations marking the start of the Palestinian chairmanship of the Group of 77 and China, defying US objections to lead the biggest UN bloc of developing countries.

In his speech on Tuesday, Abbas said Israel has hampered development in the occupied territories.

"Israel's continued colonisation 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," Abbas told the gathering.

The Palestinian leader said he was committed to a "peaceful solution that brings an end to the occupation and the realisation of the independence of the State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side in peace and security with the state of Israel".

Palestine's place at the helm of the G77 comes amid heightened pressure from the United States to force Palestinians into negotiations with Israel.

In December 2017, President Donald Trump announced that Washington would recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, breaking with the international consensus that the status of the city would be decided in negotiations.

That decision was met with widespread anger from Palestinians and Abbas has sought to further Palestinian statehood objectives in international arenas such as the UN, bypassing the US altogether.

'A historic step for Palestine'

The UN General Assembly in 2017 adopted a resolution granting the observer-state of Palestine additional rights to act as chair of the G77.

The bloc - which through an expanding membership is now comprised of 134 countries - rotates chairmanship duties each year to different members.

The US voted against that measure, arguing that the Palestinians should not be allowed to take the chair because it is not a full UN member-state. 

In a press release on Tuesday, Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat said the appointment marks a significant achievement for Palestine.

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

“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.

"We are accepting this tremendous challenge and unique international status with an immense sense of responsibility, as well as with honour and pride," Erekat wrote.

Abbas has broken off ties with the Trump administration and has vowed to oppose any US peace proposal that he has warned would be biased in favour of Israel.

The US has also cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for the Palestinians, including funds to the UN Palestinian refugee agency, which was forced to scale back its education and health programmes as a result.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians will launch a bid to become a full member of the United Nations even though such a move will be blocked by the US, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday.

"We know that we are going to face a US veto but that won't prevent us from presenting our application" for full UN membership, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told journalists. 

The Palestinians presented a request for UN membership in 2011, but the application has never come before the Security Council for a vote.