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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Palestinians win UN backing to lead developing country bloc

Nikki Haley calls decision a 'UN mistake'

Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour sits while members of the United Nations General Assembly vote. Reuters 
Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour sits while members of the United Nations General Assembly vote. Reuters 

The Palestinians won backing to lead the biggest bloc of developing countries at the United Nations, raising their profile at the world body despite opposition from the United States.

The General Assembly on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to grant the observer-state of Palestine temporary rights to act as chair of the Group of 77 plus China, a bloc that has grown to 134 countries at the United Nations.

A resolution drafted by Egypt was adopted by a vote of 146 to 3 with 15 abstentions. The United States, Israel and Australia were the only three countries to oppose the measure in the 193-nation assembly.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley branded the decision a "UN mistake," recalling that the "Palestinians are not a UN member state or any state at all" and should not be granted privileges reserved for full-fledged members.

"Today's UN mistake undermines the prospects for peace by encouraging the illusion held by some Palestinian leaders that they can advance their goals without direct peace negotiations," said Ms Haley in a statement.

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The result came as no surprise as the G77 had agreed last month to give the Palestinians the chair and could easily garner enough support in the General Assembly to win approval for the measure.

The resolution gives the Palestinians, who take up the year-long chair in January, additional rights such as the authority to submit proposals on behalf of the G77 and request that they be put to the vote.

The measure does not, however, change the status of the Palestinians, considered a non-member observer state at the United Nations without voting rights at the General Assembly.

Only UN member-states with full recognition should be entitled to speak and act on behalf of groups of countries, US Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Cohen told the assembly ahead of the vote.

Calling the resolution "misguided," Mr Cohen warned that the United States will "leave no doubt about where we stand" and will not recognise the Palestinians in their new UN role.

"When the Palestinians speak as chair of the G77 in the General Assembly, we will remind our fellow member-states that the United States does not recognise that there is a Palestinian state and that no such state has been admitted as a UN member state," he said.

Taking the floor, Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour pledged to "spare no effort" to defend the interests of the G77 and to work "constructively with all partners."

The G77 and China are influential on budgetary issues at the assembly and have been effective in pushing their agenda as the biggest bloc.

The vote came amid tensions between President Donald Trump's administration and the Palestinians over US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and other decisions deemed pro-Israel.

The Trump administration has cut aid to the Palestinians and funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, and is working on peace proposals that the Palestinians fear will be biased in favour of Israel.

In 2012, the United States voted against the resolution that upgraded the Palestinians to UN non-member observer state, arguing there should be no international recognition for the Palestinians until progress is made in peace efforts with Israel.