U.N. Committee Starts Palestine Review

UNITED NATIONS -- The Security Council committee that reviews U.N. membership applications met for the first time Friday to consider the Palestinians' request for recognition by the world body before sending it on for a technical review.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters after the closed meeting that the committee will ask experts to determine if the request "meets the criteria of the (U.N.) Charter," which requires that applicants be "peace-loving" and accept its provisions.

Araud said experts will review technical aspects of the request for the first time next week, and indicated there would be further meetings before the committee reports back to the 15-member Security Council.

U.N. diplomats say the membership committee needs only a simple majority -- or eight of the 15 votes -- to approve the request and send it back to the council.

"We hope that the experts will deal with this part of the exercise in a short period of time," Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour told reporters.

The committee meeting came exactly one week after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took his people's quest for independence to U.N. headquarters, sidestepping peace negotiating efforts that have foundered for nearly two decades.

The request for U.N. membership was made over the objections of the U.S. and Israel, which insist on a negotiated peace agreement first.

As the process of incremental steps plods forward at the U.N., the international community is searching for a formula to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to negotiations.

The Quartet of Mideast mediators -- the U.S., European Union, Russia and U.N. -- last week called for a resumption of peace talks without preconditions and a target for a final agreement by the end of 2012.

In order for a state to become a U.N. member, its application must be recommended by the Security Council and then approved by the General Assembly by a two-thirds vote of its 193 members.

For the Palestinians, winning approval in the Security Council currently poses an insurmountable hurdle. That's because a resolution requires nine "yes" votes and no veto by a permanent member -- and the U.S. has already declared it will veto any resolution if needed.

Nonetheless, the Palestinians are trying to get backing from nine council nations to demonstrate their international support.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said Thursday that his delegation has secured eight votes in its favor.

Malki said from Ramallah, West Bank, on Friday that Abbas will visit two council nations -- Colombia and Portugal -- next week seeking support for the bid. Colombia has said it's likely to abstain, while Portugal has indicated it is undecided.