The United Nations Security Council will meet tomorrow to start the process of formally considering the Palestinian request for membership in the world body.
Lebanese ambassador Nawaf Salam, who holds this month’s rotating security council presidency, made a brief appearance before reporters yesterday, issuing a statement in English and Arabic.
He said the council had met and decided to take up a decision on referring the issue for further consideration in two days. That will consist of forming a committee to study the Palestinian submission.
The United States has said it would use its security council veto to block Palestinian membership should the measure receive the necessary nine of 15 votes. That would keep the membership bid from moving forward to the 193-member General Assembly for the needed two-thirds vote. A vote in the security council was not expected for weeks at least.
US officials, speaking anonymously to describe confidential diplomacy, said they were telling fellow council members that there was no rush to act on the bid submitted on Friday by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, over US and Israeli objections.
The US is also seeking co-operation from other members in persuading the Palestinians not to push for a quick vote.
The US hopes that going slow may allow Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to resume without a confrontation at the world body.
Earlier yesterday secretary of state Hillary Clinton met Lebanese prime minister Najib Makati at the UN to make the US argument. Lebanon, the only Arab member of the 15-member security council, is expected to support the Palestinian bid.
Senior US officials said Mrs Clinton had made separate, similar calls to the foreign ministers of Colombia and China, both of which hold council seats.
The Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, said he was grateful to secretary general Ban Ki-moon for quickly forwarding the request to the security council.
“We hope it will lead to fast action in positively recognising that Palestine be admitted,” Mr Mansour said.
But he admitted that several countries would be coming “under tremendous pressure” not to recognise Palestine as a state and said the Palestinians were sending high-level delegations in the coming days to Bosnia, Gabon and Nigeria - all council members – to elicit support.
Mr Mansour said the Palestinian leadership would be meeting tomorrow on a subsequent statement by the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers – the US, European Union, Russia and UN – calling for a resumption of peace talks without preconditions within a month and a target for a final agreement by the end of 2012.
Israel and the United States oppose the move to grant UN membership to the Palestinians and consider it a step back from long-stalled peace talks.
The Palestinians want the security council to recognise an independent Palestine in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip – areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War. Some 500,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
The United States, Britain, France and other council members are likely to try to hold up consideration of the application while they press for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, diplomats said.
If the Palestinians fail to win UN membership, they can turn directly to the general assembly, where there are no vetoes and a number of options including seeking to raise their status at the UN from a permanent observer to a non-member observer state.
That would give them the possibility of joining UN agencies and becoming parties to treaties including the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court.