By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. Security Council panel on admitting new members to the United Nations met on Friday for the first time on the Palestinian bid to join the world body as Palestinians lobbied council members for support.
After the closed-door meeting of the council's standing committee on admitting new members, which comprises all 15 council members, Lebanese U.N. Ambassador Nawaf Salam said the committee unanimously agreed to continue meeting at the expert level next week.
It was the beginning of an assessment process that will pit the aid-dependent Palestinians against the United States and Israel, both of which vehemently oppose the membership bid, in trying to secure the support of undecided council members.
Salam has been the president of the Security Council this month. Nigerian Ambassador Joy Ogwu takes over the chair on Saturday for the month of October, which means she will be overseeing the standing committee's work.
Western diplomats on the council say the Palestinian U.N. bid is doomed to failure due to U.S. opposition. But the chief Palestinian delegate at the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, reiterated his hope that the application would not sit too long in the committee but would be swiftly approved by the panel.
"They will start dealing with the details of things related to our application," Mansour told reporters after the council meeting. "We hope that the experts will deal with this part of the exercise in a short period of time."
Some diplomats have suggested that the issue could stay in the committee for weeks or months before it is passed back to the Security Council for a vote. But the Palestinians have said they want the entire process over within weeks.
Several diplomats said the committee on membership -- unlike the full council -- makes recommendations on the basis of a simple majority vote and no countries have a veto.
That means the Palestinians only need to persuade eight of the 15 council members to support a committee recommendation that Palestine be admitted as a member state.
When and if the issue leaves the committee and goes back to the council for a vote, the United States will be in a position to use its veto power to strike down the Palestinian application, as Washington has vowed to do.
Security Council resolutions need nine votes in favor and no vetoes from the five permanent members to pass.
The Palestinians, Western diplomats say, have only six certain votes on the council. Those are the five "BRICS" nations -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- and Lebanon. Bosnia, Gabon and Nigeria are "swing votes" on the council that could go either way, envoys say.
The three undecided council members are quickly becoming the focus of intense lobbying efforts by the Palestinians, Israelis and Americans, U.N. diplomats say.
The Palestinians vowed last week to send high-level delegations to Bosnia, Gabon and Nigeria soon.
If the Palestinians fail to secure nine votes on the council, the United States will not have to use its veto, something Washington would prefer to avoid in order not to spark anti-American demonstrations across the Middle East.
If the Palestinian delegation secures nine votes, it would force Washington to use its veto. Although the Palestinian U.N. application would fail, the Palestinians could claim a political victory over the United States, U.N. diplomats say.
(Editing by Eric Beech)