The US may retaliate against Palestinians leading a major UN group, expert warns

Key Points
  • The G-77, which makes up about two-thirds of the U.N. membership, has chosen the observer state of Palestine as its next leader starting in January 2019.
  • The formal election of Palestinian diplomat Riyad H. Mansour as the chairman of G-77 is scheduled to take place in mid-September.
  • Stratfor's Emily Hawthorne warns there could be a backlash from the U.S. in the form of further reduction of funding for U.N. agencies.
Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, speaking at the UN headquarters on July 24, 2018.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images 

A United Nations group representing 80 percent of the world's population handed what appeared to be a victory to Palestinian causes last week.

The Group of 77, which makes up about two-thirds of U.N. membership with its 134-country roster, selected Palestinian diplomat Riyad Mansour as the 2019 chairman of the bloc — a move that could lead to more pain for both Palestine and U.N. agencies, according to one expert.

The formal election of Mansour, scheduled to take place in mid-September, might instigate backlash from the U.S. in the form of a further reduction of funding for U.N. agencies, said Middle East and North Africa analyst at Stratfor, Emily Hawthorne.

The U.S. will try to push its view that the U.N. is an institution that often sides with Palestine in the Arab-Israeli conflict, she said.

Potential retaliation

Hawthorne's warning comes after the Trump administration announced earlier this year that it will slash its funding to the UNRWA — the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees — by more than $300 million to $60 million.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in a tweet in January that "with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?"

Tweet: ...peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more. But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?

As a result of the funding cut, the UNRWA announced last week it would have to reduce jobs in Gaza and the West Bank. That decision led to protests in Gaza, with observers saying that about 1,000 people in the territory could lose their jobs.

Unemployment in Gaza was already at a high of 44 percent in 2017, according to the World Bank.

The Americans and Israelis may not be able to change the G-77's decision, but the U.S. could retaliate and further reduce its funding to other U.N. agencies, Hawthorne said, noting that the world's largest economy is the international organization's "wealthiest and most important member."

Even with the potential backlash from the U.S. and Israel, Palestinian leadership of the G-77 will amplify the voice of Palestinians by allowing them to "build their own narrative about establishing themselves as a state especially since they view the mediation efforts between themselves and Israelis as not moving in their favor," Hawthorne added.

'A symbolic gesture'

Some experts were critical of whether the Palestinian leadership of the G-77 would significantly advance the group's cause. They said the decision was more of a public display of support for Palestinians and the conflict still faced significant challenges going forward.

There are two main barriers to successful negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, said James Dorsey, senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

"The U.S. is being seen (as) increasingly less of a potential moderator to advance negotiations between the two parties by the Palestinians. Adding to that, Palestinian leadership is splintered at the moment, which will pose a barrier for them to come to the negotiating table as one voice," he said.

The decision by the G-77 to select Mansour as chairman "can be interpreted more as a symbolic gesture by the bloc — to make a statement that the Palestinian cause has not been forgotten," said Victor Kattan, senior research fellow at the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.