Israel Likely to Join OECD in 2010: “If You Have Enough Money, We’ll Call You a Democracy”

General Secretary of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Angel Gurria, visited Israel last week (18-20 January 2010) to launch two new OECD reports: an Economic Survey of Israel and a Review of Israel”s Labour Market and Social Policies. At this time Gurria announced that Israel”s accession to the OECD is likely to occur within the coming six months.

Connie Hackbarth spoke with Shir Hever, Economic Researcher of the AIC, to better understand what this means.

What is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development?

The OECD is an association of developed countries, primarily from the West, which is committed to democracy, the free market and development. Of course, this “development” refers to neo-liberal development and economic policies.

Israeli media reported last week that Israel will become a member of the OECD in the near future.

The General Secretary of the OECD, Angel Gurria, recently announced that despite several “concerns,” Israel will likely join the OECD in the coming six months. At this point it is unclear whether these concerns will have to be resolved before Israel joins, and the fear is that they will not.

What are these “concerns?”

There are three primary areas of concern. One concerns corruption, particularly within the Israeli arms and weapons industry. Another relates to intellectual property rights, especially concerning the drug industry. And the third and most important refers to the fact that in its reports to the OECD, Israel included statistics concerning occupied East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights, areas that Israel has illegally annexed. Israel did not provide statistics without these areas because Israeli institutions do not produce statistical data which differentiates between Israel and the occupied territories, even for internal purposes.

Statistics provided by Israel to the OECD further include Israeli settlers living in the West Bank. It is important to recall that settlers in the West Bank receive more services than Israeli citizens living within the Green Line, thus creating a distortion in the data that gives an unrealistic picture of the average standard of living in Israel. One out of every 14 Israeli citizens is a settler in the West Bank, i.e., 6% of the population about which Israel reported lives in the West Bank.

When did the process of Israel”s accession to the OECD begin?

The process began in 1993 and Shimon Peres, then Foreign Minister, was the driving force behind this initiative. This was part of the overall Israeli policy of using the Oslo process as a springboard for integration into the global market and in order to gain international legitimacy for Israel.

Why has the process taken so long?

It is difficult to pin down the exact reasons why. Israeli economists, however, believe this delay is related to the Israeli occupation. They point to the accession of countries such as Mexico and the Czech Republic, which in their opinion are less developed than Israel, while Israel is still a candidate.

So why is this process moving forward now?

Israeli policies are beginning to bear fruit. OECD reports about Israel praise Israel”s liquidation of the welfare state, its rapid privatization of government assets and the undermining of the negotiating power of workers as positive steps taken by Israel.

What is the meaning of Israel”s accession to the OECD?

From an economic perspective there is little meaning. Israeli stocks could potentially be upgraded to be traded in indices of developed countries rather than indices of emerging markets, and perhaps Israel”s credit rating would be increased.

However, most importantly, accession to the OECD is an international prize certifying that Israel is a democracy, for only democracies can join the OECD.

What can activists for a just peace and social justice do?

Activists from OECD countries should protest that Israel”s accession detracts from the meaning of democracy. If Israel is given this international award while it continues to occupy and dispossess the Palestinian people, then the OECD is complicit in these human rights violations. If Israel becomes an OECD member, it further demonstrates the connection–which OECD countries would rather not admit–between democracy and free market for the developed world and the violent oppression and poverty in the developed world. What kind of free market is grounded in military occupations?

The OECD is lying by stating that Israel has seven million citizens. What it should say is that Israel has 11 million subjects, of whom only seven million are citizens. Does Israel with its 11 million subjects meet the criteria of the OECD? With its 11 million subjects, Israel is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with a disparity of 20 to 1 between the per-capita GDP of an Israeli citizen and that of a Palestinian resident of Gaza. Does Israel with its separate political system for Israelis and Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories really meet OECD criteria as a democracy?

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