A divided U.N. Security Council met behind closed doors on Monday for its first discussion of last week’s Palestinian application for full U.N. membership as a state, a move seen as certain to fail.
The meeting kicked off a process expected to take several weeks at least. It broke up after an hour with Lebanese Ambassador Nawaf Salam, saying the 15-nation body would hold a formal meeting on Wednesday to refer the matter to its admissions committee.
“The process has started, and we hope that the Security Council will shoulder its responsibility and address this application with a positive attitude,” Palestinian U.N. representative Riyad Mansour told reporters.
“This is an exercise in which there will be tremendous pressure by a certain number of countries on members of the Security Council, but we trust that we have many friends in the council.”
International powers also stepped up demands for Israelis and Palestinians to end the one-year old freeze on direct talks, with China and Germany becoming the latest at the U.N. summit to call for negotiations.
The Palestinian bid at the Security Council faces an uphill struggle however and diplomats held out little hope that Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas or Israel’ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would allow talks any time soon.
Abbas made his application for Palestinian membership to U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon on Friday and it was sent straight away to the Security Council which must approve any addition to the 193 members.
Israel’s ally the United States has vowed to use its veto to reject the application but if the Palestinians can muster nine votes in favor -- the number needed to pass a resolution absent a veto -- they would score a moral victory.
If they fail to do so, Washington would avoid the need to veto the application, which would bring diplomatic embarrassment. However a technical committee will examine the application putting back any vote for several weeks.
The United States and Israel, which have insisted that only direct negotiations can produce an accord, are lobbying furiously for the council members to oppose or abstain in the resolution.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the Palestinian bid with Lebanon’ Prime Minister Nijab Mikati at the U.N. headquarters before the meeting, U.S. officials said. Lebanon holds the council presidency in September and has backed the Palestinian bid.
Only six countries on the council appear certain to vote for Palestinian membership. The four European Union countries are expected to either abstain or vote against, while Bosnia, Colombia, Gabon and Nigeria have made no definitive statements and have been courted by both Israel and the Palestinians.
Mansour said Palestinian delegations were expected to visit Bosnia, Gabon and Nigeria in the near future, but he acknowledged that “we are not the only players in this game.”
“This is an exercise in which there will be tremendous pressure on members of the Security Council, but we trust in our friends,” Mansour said.
Despite the U.S. opposition, Mansour called on the Security Council to “synchronize itself with history” and approve Palestinian membership.
U.S. President Barack Obama told Abbas publicly and privately last week that there could be no Palestinian state without an accord with the Israelis reached through direct talks.
The diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East –the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations –has launched a new bid to resume talks, setting a target of an accord by the end of 2012.
Germany’ Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle gave strong support to the Quartet initiative in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly.
“Two states existing peacefully side by side are possible. However, this can only be achieved through negotiations,” he said.
“The confrontation of words here in New York must not be allowed to lead to an escalation in violence in the Middle East,” he added, calling for “direct negotiations without delay!”
China’ Foreign Minister also added to the long list of international calls for new talks in his speech to the U.N. assembly.
The Quartet has called for talks to start within a month, proposals from both sides in three months, major progress in six months and a final deal by the end of 2012.
Abbas, riding a wave of popular support in the occupied territories, says he is ready for talks but first there must be a “complete halt” to Israeli settlement building in the occupied territories.
Israel’ Netanyahu has said he wants talks without conditions and is refusing to halt the new settlements.
If the Security Council bid fails, the Palestinians are expected to go to the U.N. General Assembly to seek observer state membership of the U.N.. They would almost certainly get a majority in favor.