Last updated: 26 September, 2011

UN Council holds first talks on Palestinian bid

The UN Security Council on Monday held its first talks on the historic Palestinian bid for UN membership amidst frenzied lobbying for and against the application.

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 UN 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 Mahmud Abbas or Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would allow talks any time soon.

Abbas made his application for Palestinian membership to UN 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.

The United States has vowed to veto any resolution in favor of the Palestinians, but a technical committee will examine the application putting back any vote for several weeks.

Monday’s meeting lasted barely 40 minutes. The council will hold new talks on the bid on Wednesday.

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.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the Palestinian bid with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Nijab Mikati at the UN headquarters before the meeting, US officials said. Lebanon holds the council presidency in September and has backed the Palestinian bid.

The Palestinians are also to send high level delegations to council members Bosnia, Gabon and Nigeria in a bid to win backing, Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, told reporters.

“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 US opposition, Mansour called on the Security Council to “synchronize itself with history” and approve Palestinian membership.

Nine of the 15 council members already recognize the Palestinian state, but diplomats say the Palestinians will struggle to get nine votes.

US 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’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle gave strong support to the Quartet initiative in his speech to the UN 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’s Foreign Minister also added to the long list of international calls for new talks in his speech to the UN 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’s Netanyahu has said he wants talks without conditions and is refusing to halt the new settlements.

A senior UN official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on the sidelines of the Clinton-Mikati talks that he saw “little hope” for new talks.

If the Security Council bid fails, the Palestinians are expected to go to the UN General Assembly to seek observer state membership of the UN. They would almost certainly get a majority in favor.