UNITED NATIONS (AP) — An Israeli human rights group urged the U.N. Security Council to take decisive action now to end the country's occupation of Palestinian territory.
Hagai El-Ad, executive director of B'Tselem, told an informal council meeting Friday on "Illegal Israeli Settlements: Obstacles to Peace and the Two-State Solution" that Israel has controlled Palestinian lives in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem for the past 49 years "and counting."
"Israel will not cease being an oppressor simply by waking up one day and realizing the brutality of its policies," he said.
With the 50th anniversary approaching next year, El-Ad said "the rights of Palestinians must be realized, the occupation must end, the U.N. Security Council must act, and the time is now."
El-Ad stressed that the council "has more than just power: you have a moral responsibility and a real opportunity to act with a sense of urgency before we reach the symbolic date of June 2017 and the second half of that first century begins."
Another Israeli rights group, Peace Now, was invited to speak but it was represented by its sister organization, Americans for Peace Now, which has also campaigned for an end to Israeli occupation.
"The occupation is a threat to Israel's security and to Israel's very existence," said Lara Friedman, the group's director of policy and government relations.
When Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization signed the Oslo peace accords 23 years ago, the settler population in the West Bank was 116,000, she said. At the end of 2015, it was almost 390,000.
"I urge you here today to finally take action in the Security Council to send a clear message to Israel that the international community stands by the two-state solution and unambiguously rejects policies that undermine it — including Israeli settlement policies," Friedman said.
Israel's U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon accused B'Tselem of joining "Palestinian attempts to wage diplomatic terror against Israel at the U.N."
He also accused the group of choosing "to slander and besmirch Israel's good name" and vowed that "we will continue to fight and tell the truth about Israel despite the attempts to spread lies about us.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. Ambassador, called the informal meeting "a very positive exercise" that builds on his discussions about a new U.N. resolution that would demand an end to Israeli settlement building.
The Palestinians pushed for the Security Council to adopt a resolution against settlements in February 2011 but it was vetoed by the United States. The 14 other Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution, reflecting the wide support for the draft which had over 100 co-sponsors.
What the United States might do about a new settlements resolution remains to be seen.
U.S. deputy ambassador David Pressman told the meeting that "the United States remains firmly committed to advancing a two-state solution ... (and) we are deeply concerned about continued settlement activity."
He recalled that last week the United States condemned new Israeli settlements and said that since July 1 over 2,400 settlement units have been advanced in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This makes "a viable Palestinian state more remote," he said.
"In short, we need to start implementing the two-state solution on the ground right now," Pressman said.
While a peace deal can only be achieved through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, he said, "significant progress towards creating a two-state reality can be made now that will help restore hope and lay the groundwork for successful negotiations."
"We continue to stress the urgency and importance of taking these steps now and refraining from actions that corrode the prospects for two states," Pressman said.
Mansour called Pressman's use of the word "now" twice very interesting, saying his comments are in line with strong messages from Washington expressing "outrage against the intensification of settlement activities."
He said it's too early to say whether this will translate into U.S. support for a new settlements resolution.