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What comes next with the UN bid?

Oct. 6, 2011 9:52 A.M. (Updated: Oct. 7, 2011 7:30 P.M.)
By: Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- Despite US and Israeli objections, the Palestinian Authority has applied for full UN membership and recognition of a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

President Mahmoud Abbas submitted the application to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sept. 23. Ban immediately passed it to the UN Security Council, which took its first step on Sept. 28 by handing it to a standing committee that will review and assess the application.

Israel and the United States oppose the Palestinian membership bid, saying it is aimed at de-legitimizing Israel. They say the only way Palestine can get statehood is through direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Here are some questions and answers about how the Security Council and its committee on admitting UN member states will handle the application and the likely outcome.

How does the UN admit member states?

Countries seeking to join the United Nations usually present an application to the UN secretary-general, who passes it to the Security Council to assess and vote on.

If the 15-nation council approves the membership request, it goes to the 193-nation UN General Assembly for approval. A membership request needs a two-thirds majority, or 129 votes, for approval in the assembly. A country cannot join the United Nations unless both the Security Council and General Assembly approve its application.

Will Palestine join the UN?

So far, Palestine lacks sufficient votes on the Security Council to secure approval of the application. Resolutions need nine votes in favor and no vetoes to pass.

Council diplomats say the PLO has six definite supporters, while Bosnia, Gabon and Nigeria are "swing states" that are undecided. All three "swing states" have recognized Palestine but are under intense pressure from Washington and Israel not to support the membership bid.

Riyad al-Malki, foreign minister in Ramallah, has said he is confident Palestine can get the requisite nine votes. But even if Palestine secures nine supporters and demands the issue be put to a vote in the Security Council, Washington has vowed to veto it.

What happens in the UN membership committee?

The Security Council's standing committee on admitting new members includes all 15 council members. The committee will review and assess the request for membership.

Among the criteria it will consider are whether Palestine is a state and whether it can and wants to comply with the UN Charter.

Once it has assessed the application, the committee will send a report with recommendations to the Security Council on whether it should accept the membership bid.

Unlike the full Security Council, the standing committee makes decisions on the basis of a simple majority and none of the five permanent council members can use its veto power.

That means the PLO only needs the support of eight of the 15 council members to get a positive recommendation from the committee. Even if its membership bid fails, a positive recommendation from the committee would likely be seen as a political victory for the PLO.

The committee is expected to report back to the Security Council on the status of its work by Oct. 18.

What happens when the committee is finished?

The standing committee will make a recommendation to the Security Council on how to proceed with the application. That recommendation might contain several options.

At some point, the council will vote on a resolution that will either recommend admitting Palestine as a member state or reject its request. If the request is rejected, the application can be resubmitted.

How long will the process take?

In theory, the application could sit in the committee indefinitely. However, council diplomats say that is unlikely. A Sept. 23 statement by the "Quartet" of Middle East peace negotiators -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and United nations -- called on Israel and the PLO to meet within one month to agree on an agenda to resurrect stalled peace talks.

In keeping with that timeline, Western diplomats said they would expect the standing committee to produce a report on the Palestinian application for the council by Oct. 23 or shortly thereafter.

A Security Council vote on the Palestinian membership application would likely happen at the end of this month or in November. It is unlikely the process would run into 2012, diplomats said.

What happens if the bid is rejected?

Palestinian officials have suggested that they would seek upgraded observer status within the United Nations. The PLO is currently listed as an observer "entity" with no voting rights. The PLO could ask the General Assembly to make Palestine a non-member observer state, like the Vatican, which would be an indirect recognition of statehood. That would require a simple majority vote in the assembly and would enable Palestine to join a number of UN agencies, as well as the International Criminal Court.
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