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Palestinians head up U.N. bloc of nations

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took over as chairman of the Group of 77, an international organization representing a major bloc of U.N. votes.

UNITED NATIONS (AN) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took over as chairman of the Group of 77, an international organization representing a major bloc of U.N. votes.

In a ceremonial handover at the U.N. headquarters in New York, Abbas was given the reins of the G-77 — which was created in 1964 and now includes 134 mainly developing nations and China — from the outgoing chairman, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

Abbas promised to uphold multilateralism, and he told reporters that the Palestinians, who have non-member U.N. observer status, will keep pushing to obtain full U.N. membership and a peaceful two-state solution to the prolonged Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Since Palestine is not a full member, its turn in charge of the G-77 required passage of a special resolution from the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly last October. The resolution won overwhelming approval by a vote of 146-3 in which only three countries — Australia, Israel and the United States — voted against. Fifteen countries abstained.

Opponents feared the G-77 chairmanship would boost the Palestinians' campaign for statehood; the United States does not recognize a Palestinian state, and U.S. diplomats said they could not support Palestinian efforts to enhance their status outside direct negotiations.

Abbas said Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories undercuts his people's development, but that he would use the G-77 chair as a force against all foreign occupations. “Palestine cannot be an exception,” he said. “We also suffer under the yoke of foreign occupation.”

Working relations

After meeting with Abbas to discuss his new role, the president of the U.N. General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, emphasized the importance of multilateralism.

"The fact that today we are celebrating the transfer of the presidency of the Group of 77 and China is undoubtedly a triumph of multilateralism and a demonstration of how important the role of the UNGA is," she said.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said the Palestinians were "well-placed to take up the chairmanship of this important group" of mostly developing nations and China.

"Palestine and its citizens have first-hand experience of some of the most challenging and dramatic global issues we face," he said, referring to Palestinian refugees who fled fighting when Israel was created in 1948 and the many others who have since become reliant on the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA.

Since its creation in 1949, the U.N. agency has provided aid to millions of Palestinians for many basic services, such as health care for 3.1 million registered refugees and education for 526,000 students.

Abbas said achieving peace and security in the Middle East would "create an opening for the achievement of sustainable and stable development for all states in the region." With help and support from G-77 members, he pledged to work towards fending off the "ferocious attack" that some populist leaders have waged against U.N.-allied multilateral systems.

"The principles upon which this group was created are directly linked with the principles of international consensus, U.N. goals and the building of strongest foundations to protect this world and the multilateral international system," he said.