How US could avoid vetoing Palestinian statehood

Even though nine Security Council members have recognized Palestinian sovereignty, it appears increasingly unlikely that all of those would vote for the formal request.

Majdi Mohammed/AP
Palestinians watch their President Mahmoud Abbas on TV as he addresses the General Assembly of the UN, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, last week.

The United Nations Security Council formally took up the Palestinian bid for statehood Monday, but signs appear to be growing that the US could avoid using its veto to stop the measure.

A petition for full UN membership requires a favorable vote from nine of the Council’s 15 members, but a number of members appear to be wavering in their support – raising prospects that the Palestinian bid could fail to reach the required majority.

Several UN diplomats said that, even though nine of the Security Council members have recognized Palestinian sovereignty, it appears increasingly unlikely that all of those would vote for the formal request. The Security Council took up the matter for 40 minutes Monday afternoon, long enough to send the petition to a membership committee that will include representatives of all 15 Council members.

The Security Council is expected to take up the issue again Wednesday and Friday, UN sources said, but a formal vote is not expected for several weeks. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas submitted his statehood bid to the Council Friday, defying US demands that he instead return to talks with Israel.

The Obama administration has vowed to veto the Palestinian request, but a failure to reach a nine-vote majority would allow President Obama to avoid standing out as the world leader who squelched Palestinian statehood – something he says he supports, but only through negotiations with Israel.

The US and the four other permanent members of the council – Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom – all wield veto power, but only the US has said it would use its veto to stop creation of an independent Palestine.

China on Monday announced that it supports the petition – but in his speech Monday to the UN General Assembly, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi also underscored China’s support for a return to direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Last week at the UN, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a speech that he supports non-voting “observer” status for Palestine that could be approved through the 194-member General Assembly – suggesting France would vote “no” on full statehood through the Security Council.

On Friday the Quartet of powers seeking to broker Mideast peace – the US, the European Union, Russia and the UN – issued a statement in which they called on the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table within a month, with the goal of reaching a final peace agreement by the end of 2012.

The Security Council is unlikely to call a vote on the Palestinian statehood bid while Israel and Palestine mull the Quartet’s statement on proposed talks, UN officials say.

A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Monday that the US will participate in the Security Council’s deliberations on the Palestinian petition, but that for the US the focus remains getting the parties back to the table.

“There are meetings ... over the course of the week to determine the appropriate procedure and steps forward with regard to the letter from President Abbas, and we will take part in that,” the officials said. “But ... we are hoping that the parties will use the timetable and make good use of the proposal put forward by the Quartet.”

US officials said that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed the issue in her meeting in New York Monday with Colombia’s foreign minister, María Angela Holguin.

Colombia is one of the 10 non-permanent rotating members of the Security Council the US believes can be counted on as a “no” vote on the Palestinian petition.

Other non-permanent members include: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Germany, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal, and South Africa.

Bosnia, Gabon, and Nigeria were all thought Monday to be wavering in what last week was considered to be full support for the statehood bid. Accordingly, a Palestinian representative to the UN, Riyad Mansour, told reporters in New York Monday that the Palestinians planned to meet soon with representatives of those three countries.

“This is an exercise in which there will be tremendous pressure on members of the Security Council,” representative Mansour said, “but we trust in our friends."

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