After a year that encompassed US cuts to aid funding, estrangement from the Trump administration and poor personal health, President Mahmoud Abbas will arrive at the United Nations tomorrow on the eve of a rare positive moment for the Palestinian cause.
By taking the chairmanship of the Group of 77, an alliance of developing nations at the UN, Palestine will become the first non member state to do so, opening avenues for greater diplomatic engagement and possibly a renewed bid for statehood at the global body.
Palestine, which the UN General Assembly granted permanent observer status in 2012, will succeed Egypt at the head of the G77, an entity established in 1964 with the aim of bolstering its members’ clout in the UN General Assembly.
Founding countries included Arab heavyweights Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq, southern and Latin American giants Brazil and Venezuela, and much of Africa and Asia. Although it has since grown to 134 nations the G77 name remains, partly because China does not acknowledge itself as a member despite taking part in the group’s deliberations.
Mr Abbas will meet UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in New York on Monday. A ceremony the next day will see the Palestinian president formally take the chairmanship of the G77 for the next 12 months, with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry among the invited guests.
Mr Abbas will be hoping the G77 can help the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank under an Israeli occupation, gain much-needed international support at a time when hopes for peace in the decades-long conflict have rarely been lower.
The UN group’s members account for 80 per cent of the world’s population and they frequently take the same position when voting in the General Assembly. While serving as leader of the G77, Palestine will be able to co-sponsor proposals and amendments while using the forum to make statements and raise matters of concern at the UN.
With such proposals and measures being non-binding, however, the chairmanship is more likely to be of symbolic value at a time when US foreign policy is dominated by countering Iran and a promised but highly confused military withdrawal from Syria.
Israel has also sought to delegitimise the bloc of developing nations since the announcement of Palestine’s ascension to its leadership. Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon in July last year said it would now “become a platform for spreading lies and incitement”, a regular Israeli claim about Palestinian diplomacy at the international level.
“More than anything, President Abbas is trying to draw attention to himself and to Palestinian aims, which are largely seen as marginal right now,” said Robert Danin, former US deputy assistant secretary of state with responsibility for Israeli-Palestinian affairs.
“We have just seen the US Secretary of State meet a host of Arab leaders and the Palestinian issue did not register. It is not at the core of Arab policy any more,” he continued. “This week could allow Mr Abbas, at the UN, to play to an audience that shares his view of the US as being too far aligned with Israel.”