A Palestinian bid to win full membership of the United Nations came one step closer to collapse on Friday when a Security Council committee failed to reach agreement on the issue.
The development left it up to Palestinians, who have so far been unable to secure the nine votes needed to pass a Security Council resolution favouring their U.N. bid, to decide whether or not to call a vote on their application.
That would be a symbolic move since the United States has vowed to veto the application. Washington would not need to use that power if the Palestinians failed to obtain nine supporters in a vote, depriving them of at least a moral victory.
The United Nations currently considers Palestine an observer entity. President Mahmoud Abbas applied on September 23 for full U.N. membership for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
A report adopted on Friday by the Security Council's admissions committee, which includes all 15 council members, detailed the deadlock among council members.
It says the body was unable to make a unanimous recommendation to the Security Council, without whose approval no membership bid can succeed.
Portuguese Ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral, council president for November, said the council will look at the report and discuss any future initiatives.
In practice, the next step depends on the Palestinians, who gave no immediate indication of what they would choose to do, saying they had to discuss the matter with other Arab leaders.
We will be studying this report and the whole exercise thoroughly ... and we will make a determination very quickly as to the next step forward in the U.N. system, Palestinian U.N. representative Riyad Mansour told reporters.
Israel and the United States oppose the Palestinian bid for membership, saying the only way Palestine can get statehood is via peace talks with Israel. The Palestinians say they have created a viable state that deserves membership and that they have not turned their back on talks, which they say Israel has sabotaged by continuing to build West Bank settlements.
The membership issue has split the Security Council almost in half. Diplomats say Russia, China, Lebanon, Brazil, India, South Africa and probably Gabon and Nigeria would support the Palestinians, the United States would vote against and Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Colombia and Bosnia would likely abstain, with Germany possibly voting against.
Palestinian officials said they would not give up their quest for U.N. membership, but declined to spell out their strategy before an Arab League meeting next week.
They could request a prompt Security Council vote, even though that appears doomed to fail. Alternatively, they could make a fresh membership attempt in the Security Council in the New Year, when five seats will have changed.
Another much-discussed option would be to go the General Assembly and request an upgrade to an observer non-member state like the Vatican. That would fall short of full membership but would implicitly recognise Palestine as a state and would likely win a majority in the 193-nation assembly.
German Ambassador Peter Wittig urged the Palestinians to reconsider what to do. I think the picture is clear that there is no majority here for admission, he said.
But Palestinian officials rejected suggestions that their membership drive had failed.
In New York, envoy Mansour said that following Palestinian admission last month to the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO, now it is a fact that we do exist in the U.N. system as a state. The UNESCO move was criticized by Israel and the United States, which suspended funding to the agency.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat told Reuters by telephone from Tunis: I would beg to differ with anyone who says success or failure, because it is a beginning. We are going to study our options and take it from there.
(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in New York and Tom Perry in Ramallah; Editing by Doina Chiacu)