Welcome OECD's Latest Member, Israel (or Not)

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/12/2010 12:11:00 AM
I myself have taken my eye off the ball in not mentioning this turn of events amidst all the news emanating from Europe regarding the European Stabilization Fund. On Tuesday, Baroness Catherine Ashton of Upholland, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, came to speak here at the LSE. Goodness, she has almost as many honorifics as her Labour contemporary Peter Mandelson during his recent glory days! During question time, a member of the audience then questioned why the EU has stood idly by while Israel has been accepted as a member of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) despite perceptions of its continued human rights violations against the Palestinians. Since the EU claims to be an enlightened body when it comes to upholding human rights, shouldn't it at least attempt to block Israel's entry into this rich country's club?

Now, the issue of Israel has long been a cause celebre among British academics, with calls to boycott Israel's universities being a particularly contentious matter that surfaces periodically. As for our kids, remember that our student union recently decided to twin the LSE with the Islamic University of Gaza. At any rate, I was surprised by how deftly Baroness Ashton handled the questions posed to her, including this one. Basically, her response was that OECD membership is decided on strictly economic criteria--meeting this and that macroeconomic indicator. Indeed, she already indicated something to this effect earlier on the matter. Despite the surface unity, there has been much wrangling among existing OCED members about what Israel's membership signifies:
A Norwegian diplomat told EUobserver that 24 countries, including the EU group-of-19 as well as Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey in their individual statements at the conclave said the move should not be seen as a legitimisation of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories. "We don't want membership to influence the question of Israel's borders," the Norwegian source said. "There's been a huge debate on this. It's not an easy subject."

Some countries proposed attaching a footnote to Israel's official letter of invitation saying the OECD does not recognise any changes to Israel's pre-1967 boundary. But the move did not gain unanimous support, the Norwegian contact added. The OECD is to set up an expert group to ensure that Israel clearly separates economic activity on its territory proper from activity in settlements when reporting statistics, however.

Membership of the prestigious Paris-based institution is based primarily on economic criteria and will help Israel to attract foreign investors and to borrow money more cheaply on international markets. But the move also has a political dimension. The OECD's rulebook says members must be committed to "pluralist democracy based on the rule of law and the respect of human rights" and to look to the "attainment of the purposes of the United Nations..."

For her part, EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton on Monday welcomed progress between Israel, the Palestinian authorities and the US on so-called "proximity" talks designed to end the decades-old conflict. "I am delighted the proximity talks appear to be moving," she said.

Commenting on the EU's commitment to human rights in its foreign policy-making more broadly, she said: "They are the silver thread that runs through everything we do and will be the silver thread that runs through the EAS [the EU's nascent diplomatic corps] when it is up and running."
As such, there was practically no discussion of human rights issues or suchlike in the membership criteria. Think of the country as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation; what the OECD authorities have done is to basically observe Dr. Jekyll and ignore Mr. Hyde. OTOH, Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has this to say:
Today (10 May 2010), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) invited Israel to become a member of the organization. The unanimous decision, taken by the 31 member-states, recognizes Israel's achievements, economic strength and ability to contribute to the organization and to the world's economy. The accession negotiations were led by the Foreign Ministry. An additional team for professional subjects was headed by the Ministry of Finance.

In order to maximalize [sic] Israel's connections with the organization, the Foreign Ministry is currently establishing Israel's Delegation to the OECD. The Delegation will operate out of the Embassy in Paris, and the Ambassador to UNESCO will be Israel’s Ambassador to the OECD, in addition to his other duties.

During the three year review process that checked compliance with OECD standards and benchmarks, OECD experts closely examined the policy and functioning of government offices, governmental authorities and the public sector and also met with representatives of economic and social organizations, universities and NGOs. Following this review process, recommendations on improvements and efficiencies were made.

Becoming a member state of the OECD will lead to economic advances and enhance Israel's image, as well as improving the functioning of various sectors in Israel's society and economy, including in the fields of environment, education and employment. The improvement and upgrading process will continue even after Israel joins the OECD as part of the government’s commitment to ongoing peer review by the organization and to adjust its regulation policy to the standards held by member-states.
And here is some mention, in passing at least, of those who tried to stop Israel from joining the OECD. Contrary to Baroness Ashton's argument about Israel's membership being on strictly economic criteria, Israel depicts the unanimous decision to allow Israel entry into the OECD as validation of its international standing. From Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman comes this statement:
FM Liberman welcomes OECD decision
(Communicated by the Foreign Minister's Bureau)

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman welcomes the OECD decision inviting Israel to join the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. FM Liberman stated that the resolution is the result of a long-term diplomatic effort, and congratulated the MFA officials responsible. According to the Foreign Minister, the resolution is a stamp of approval for the country's economy and its achievements in technology.

FM Liberman added that the resolution was unanimous, despite attempts by anti-Israel entities to prevent the acceptance of Israel into the OECD. The fact that the attempts failed is proof of Israel's solid standing with the international community and shows that it is recognized for its achievements, despite the fierce incitement against it in every conceivable arena: political, security and economic.
You could of course turn matters around and argue that Israel has used "fierce incitement" against the Palestinians in the areas noted above. It has always struck me how Israel regards its foreign affairs with this same kind of siege mentality after all these years. On a lighter note, observe that largely unimpeachable states Estonia and Slovenia have also been extended an invitation to join the OECD after undergoing similar evaluation processes.

I do not parse questions of membership in largely symbolic rich country's clubs too much as it's not a matter of great concern to this child of the Global South. But I do it for you, dear readers, as it is indeed an IPE question that has not garnered enough attention. What others miss, I will write about.