By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Palestinians' initiative to seek U.N. recognition as a state, which goes to the Security Council on Monday, faces an uphill struggle to secure the nine votes needed for approval.
Without those votes in the 15-member body, the United States will be spared the embarrassment of having to veto the application, which would be a further blow to its floundering efforts to secure Middle East peace.
As the formal discussions start, diplomats say the Palestinians have only six certain votes on the council -- China, Russia, Brazil, Lebanon, India and South Africa.
Those nations, except Lebanon, make up the BRICS bloc of emerging powers whose economic and diplomatic clout has grown as trade becomes more globalized and the United States and Europe fight prospects of another recession.
But diplomats say the BRICS countries seem to have made no attempt to use their considerable weight, often on show in financial and trade matters, to force the Palestinian issue. They have essentially taken the same approach as always.
"If a vote was held today, the Palestinians wouldn't have enough votes to carry the day and the Americans wouldn't even need to use their veto," a Western diplomat told Reuters.
The Palestinian observer to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, told reporters nine council members are among the 131 U.N. member states that have recognized the state of Palestine and he hoped that they would "vote positively."
But he acknowledged that council members will face "tremendous pressure" in the coming weeks to vote against the Palestinian U.N. bid.
Still, diplomats say Washington remains isolated on the council because of its staunch support for Israel, which the majority of U.N. member states believe has worked hard to sabotage peace talks with the Palestinians.
In February, Washington vetoed what was widely seen as an anodyne resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity, even though its language was largely consistent with statements of the Obama administration, which has urged the Israelis to resume a moratorium on new settlements.
When Israel ended the moratorium a year ago, the Palestinians withdrew from moribund peace talks.
Highlighting its isolation on the Security Council, Washington cast the sole vote against the settlements resolution. The other 14 members -- including Washington's European allies such as Britain and France -- opposed the United States and Israel and voted for the resolution.
The Europeans agree with Washington that the Palestinian U.N. bid is unwise and are inclined to oppose it. But the Europeans and Americans are far apart on the Middle East issue and diplomats say Washington remains as isolated as ever.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas set the clock ticking on Friday when he delivered a U.N. membership application for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The capital would be East Jerusalem, land Israel captured in the 1967 war that it launched out of fear Arabs were poised to attack.
The council will take up the Palestinian membership application on Monday in closed-door consultations, but no immediate action is expected, diplomats say.
Normally the council would take no more than 35 days to review and assess a membership application. In July, the application of South Sudan, the 193rd U.N. member and the most recent country to join the world body, was approved in a matter of days and given to the General Assembly, which confirmed it.
Western diplomats on the Security Council say that will not be the case with the Palestinian application. The United States and Israel vehemently oppose the move and say it can only undermine efforts to relaunch stalled peace talks.
The 35-day limit can easily be waived, Western diplomats say. Slowing down the process, they say, would be helpful as it would buy time for the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- the "Quartet" -- to put pressure on both sides to get back to the negotiating table.
But Abbas told reporters during the trip back to Ramallah that he expected the council to make a decision in "weeks not months."
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki has acknowledged his delegation lacks sufficient support at the moment to get a resolution on Palestinian statehood and U.N. membership through the council.
To pass, resolutions need nine votes in favor and no vetoes from the five permanent council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
"We're working toward it (securing nine votes) and I think we'll manage it," Malki said.
Malki has named Gabon, Nigeria and Bosnia as key rotating council members he hopes to win over to the Palestinians' side. During last week's U.N. General Assembly session, the three "swing states" did not divulge whether they would vote in favor of Palestinian U.N. membership.
Gabon President Ali Bongo told the assembly he supported the existence of a Palestinian state that "lives peacefully side by side" with Israel. Bosnian President Zeljko Komsic voiced similar views. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan did not mention the Palestinians in his speech.
Mansour said the Palestinians would be sending high-level delegations to Bosnia, Gabon and Nigeria in the coming weeks.
Portugal's prime minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, whose country is also on the council, indicated Lisbon would favor an option whereby the Palestinians would apply to the General Assembly for upgraded U.N. observer state status -- less than full membership but indirect recognition of statehood.
(Editing by John O'Callaghan and Cynthia Osterman)