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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 February 2019

Mahmoud Abbas suggests renewed Palestinian bid for statehood

Palestinian leader takes centre stage in New York after Israeli effort to counter UN membership

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (R) is applauded by the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres during meeting of the United Nations Group of 77. AFP
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (R) is applauded by the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres during meeting of the United Nations Group of 77. AFP

President Mahmoud Abbas suggested on Tuesday that Palestine would renew a bid for statehood at the United Nations, defiantly rejecting Israel's “occupation and colonisation” of its territory.

Mr Abbas was speaking in New York, as he and Palestine took over the chairmanship of a group of developing nations at the UN, becoming the first unofficially recognised country to do so.

Palestine was granted observer status at the UN in 2012, an upgrade from being a non-member, but asked before his main address if he was preparing a new proposal for full UN membership he replied: “We will, definitely. Starting today.”

Such an attempt would have to be taken to the UN Security Council where it is destined to fail because of the ability of the US to exercise a veto. The last bid for full membership foundered in 2014 when the US said it would use its veto power if the matter came to a vote.

The prospect of obtaining full membership seems even more remote this time round but it signals a new attempt to rally international support for the Palestinian cause at a time when it has fallen down the international agenda. Israel in recent weeks has approached Security Council members to try to axe any membership application from Mr Abbas.

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The administration of President Donald Trump has defended Israel, acting in concert with the Jewish state at the UN over the past two years. It also cut aid for Palestinian refugees and moved its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv last year, in an act that broke longstanding American policy.

Dialogue between the US and Mr Abbas has also fallen apart ahead of a much touted but repeatedly delayed US plan for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Mr Abbas has rejected the proposals in advance.

Tuesday's ceremony, however, saw the 83-year-old leader take over from Egypt as head of the G77 group of countries at the UN, which despite the name has grown to 134 nations since it was founded in 1964.

“I am honoured on behalf of the Palestinian people and the state of Palestine to assume the presidency of the G77,” Mr Abbas said. “I assure you that the state of Palestine will spare no effort to ensure we are able to build on the achievements of the group.”

He did not address the question of UN membership in his speech, but underlined the challenges facing the Palestinians and its demand to have East Jerusalem acknowledged as its capital under a two-state solution.

“We suffer under the yoke of foreign occupation,” he added. “The establishment of peace and security in the Middle East would change the possibilities for sustainable opportunities for all its countries. Israel's continued colonisation and occupation of Palestine damages us.”

A spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, later told reporters that no letter or document had yet been received from Mr Abbas regarding full UN membership for Palestine.

Updated: January 15, 2019 10:39 PM

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