| UNITED NATIONS
UNITED NATIONS The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday took its first step on the Palestinian application to join the United Nations by handing it to a committee that will review and assess it in the coming weeks.
The standing committee on the admission of new members to the world body is comprised of all 15 council members. Normally, the review period for a membership application is a maximum of 35 days, but Western diplomats say this limit can be waived and the process could theoretically drag on.
Western diplomats on the council say the Palestinian U.N. bid is doomed to failure due to U.S. opposition. But the chief Palestinian delegate to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, welcomed the council's move as a first step toward eventual U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood.
"We are grateful to the Security Council for moving decisively and clearly on our application," he told reporters after the council meeting. "The process is moving forward step by step, and we hope that the Security Council will shoulder its responsibility and approve our application."
He reiterated that the Palestinians hoped the process would not take too long. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who delivered the Palestinian application to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, has said he wants the review over within weeks.
The standing committee will hold its first meeting on Friday.
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor repeated the Israeli position that the only way the Palestinians will get U.N. membership and statehood is through direct negotiations with the Israelis on a comprehensive peace agreement.
"A Palestinian state, a real Palestinian state, a viable Palestinian state, will not be achieved (by) imposing things from the outside but only in direct negotiations," he said. "There are no shortcuts."
Israel vehemently opposes the Palestinian U.N. bid, saying it is an attempt to delegitimize it. The Palestinian application calls for recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.
The Palestinians pulled out of moribund peace talks a year ago after Israel refused to extend a moratorium on Israeli settlements on territory the Palestinians want for a future state.
Israel has occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since the 1967 Middle East war.
Israel on Tuesday announced plans to build 1,100 settlement homes in the West Bank, eliciting condemnations from the United States and European Union.
Mansour also condemned the Israeli announcement.
The United States has pledged to veto the Palestinian bid, which needs council approval in order to go to the U.N. General Assembly for confirmation. So far, Western diplomats say, the Palestinians have only six certain votes on their side in the 15-member council.
Security Council resolutions need nine votes in favor and no vetoes from the five permanent members in order to pass.
Some Western envoys said they were unclear what the council's seldom-convoked membership committee would be able to do with the Palestinian application, given that the council's divisions will be replicated on the committee.
Most Security Council committees work on the basis of consensus. When the committee last convened in July to consider South Sudan's membership application it was able to wrap up its work in two days as no country was opposed.
The bitterly contested Palestinian issue will be very different. One envoy suggested the committee might ultimately have to pass it back to the full council.
(Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Will Dunham)