By Patrick Worsnip
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Security Council dynamics are no more favorable now to a Palestinian U.N. membership bid than they were last year despite a partial change in the council makeup, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said on Monday.
In the teeth of strong opposition from the United States and Israel, the Palestinian Authority applied to the council last September for U.N. membership. But a committee to consider the application failed to reach consensus, and the Palestinians have not so far requested a formal vote in the council.
Addressing a Jewish audience in New York, Ambassador Susan Rice said that since the committee's report, the application had "essentially stayed there for the time being."
"I presume that is because the Palestinians decided that, given the voting likely outcome in the council, it wasn't timely to push it to a vote," she told the governing board of the American Jewish Committee, or AJC. "The fact is, nobody knows for sure what the Palestinians will choose to do."
Asked whether the replacement of five members of the 15-nation council as of January 1 might affect the issue, Rice said, "I think that we are roughly in the same place now as we were last year, and potentially even in a better position."
The issue for the Palestinians last year was not whether their application would get council approval - since the United States was considered certain to veto it - but whether they could score a moral victory and force Washington to use its veto by winning nine votes in favor from other members.
In the absence of a veto, a council resolution needs nine votes to pass. But diplomats said at the time the Palestinians would get only eight votes in support, with other countries voting against or abstaining.
Diplomats say that situation remains despite the changes in the council membership. Newcomer Azerbaijan is thought likely to support the Palestinian application, whereas its predecessor, Bosnia, was expected to abstain. But Guatemala is unlikely to follow its predecessor, Brazil, in backing the Palestinians. The other three newcomers represent no change.
The Palestinian choice is whether to push for a Security Council vote anyway, take the issue to the U.N. General Assembly - which cannot confer membership but can upgrade their status as observers - or do nothing as contacts continue with Israel over a possible resumption of peace talks.
Rice reaffirmed the U.S. line that a Palestinian state would come only through direct negotiations with Israel, not "through a short-cut at the United Nations."
In her remarks to the AJC, Rice stressed U.S. backing at the United Nations for Israel. Some U.S. Republicans have accused President Barack Obama of being insufficiently supportive of the Jewish state.
With the U.S. election campaign heating up, one of Rice's deputies spoke publicly last week on the need for reforming U.N. practices, addressing another concern of Republicans who charge the Obama administration is too close to the world body.
(Reporting By Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Peter Cooney)