OECD rewards Israel’s occupation

Despite Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development recently agreed to let it join, writes Brian Napoletano.

May 20, 2010

THE GOVERNMENTS of the 31 member states of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) all agreed on May 10 that Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, its institutionalized discrimination against non-Jewish citizens, and its multiple alleged war crimes will not disqualify the state from joining the ranks of the world’s strongest economic powers.

The only reservations these issues raised among the member countries were those expressed by Switzerland, Ireland and Norway–who pointed out that some of Israel´s economic data was misleading because it aggregated statistics in the Occupied Palestinian Territories with its internal statistics.

Once Israel agreed to provide disaggregated statistics, to allow the OECD to add a footnote to its reports “stating that the data are supplied by and under the responsibility of the Israeli authorities and that their use by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law,” and agreed to cooperate in a post-accession study on “the impact of including these areas in key economic and social aggregates,” these three states dropped their objections and the group voted unanimously to invite Israel into its midst.

Citing Israel’s scientific and technological policies as its primary strength, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurrí­a, in a visit to Jerusalem earlier in the year, praised Israel for its apparent economic stability during the financial crisis, and assiduously avoided making any references to the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories or to the growing economic pressure Israel is facing from the European Union and other trade partners as a result of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee´s campaign.

Likewise, both the OECD´s presentation and its media briefing on its reviews of Israel’s labor market and social policies excluded all references to the occupation, with the exception of the previously mentioned footnote. According to the OECD, the fact that this report, part of which points out that ultra-orthodox and Palestinian Israelis do not appear to benefit from the Israeli economy as much as its other citizens, was “very favorably received” by the Israeli government was a clear indication that Israel has made the adjustments necessary to become a member of the organization.

In addition to the international prestige and credibility that accompanies membership, the OECD has stated that Israel can expect benefits such as new investment opportunities, participation in the formation of international trade policies, and increased access to overseas markets as a result of its accession.

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PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, along with several human rights organizations, had called on the OECD to delay its vote in light of the Israeli government’s serious and repeated disregard for the human rights of its Palestinian subjects, pointing out that the nation’s violations of international law place Israel in contravention to the OECD’s mission and the roadmap for accession that the organization issued in 2007.

Several of these advocates pointed out that Israel fails to meet even the basic criteria of a democratic government: as Jerusalem economist Shir Hever has observed, in contrast to the population of 7 million recognized by the OECD, Israel controls the lives of 11 million people, of whom 4 million are its unwilling subjects in the Occupied Territories.

Israel’s refusal to participate in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty–despite its estimated arsenal of approximately 200 undeclared warheads–coupled with the environmental havoc wreaked by the frequent military assaults and bulldozing of orchards and fields in the Occupied Territories were also cited as reasons to delay the country’s admission.

The Alternative Information Centre Palestine/Israel, which also repeated Hever’s observation, contended that awarding Israel with accession while it continued to occupy the Palestinian Territories illegally would make the OECD “complicit in these human rights violations,” and would further demonstrate that “democracy and free market for the developed world” is inextricably linked to “violent oppression and poverty in the developed world.”

Many activists working to end Israel’s continued occupation expressed similar concerns, fearing that the OECD’s decision to admit Israel would not only legitimize the impunity with which it has been implementing its ethnic cleansing of Palestine, but also demonstrate to the world community that the wealthiest and most powerful nations are not bound by international law or respect for human rights.

For its part, statements by the Israeli government indicate that they regard the OECD’s decision to admit Israel amid growing criticism of its occupation and its institutionalized discrimination against Palestinian Israelis as an overt show of support for its policies and an affirmation of its status in the international community. In a press conference Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the OECD’s decision as a “stamp of approval,” and outlined his 10-step plan to move Israel, which currently ranks as the poorest OECD member, up to one of the 15 wealthiest states.

This plan failed to address the humanitarian crises in the occupied territories, however, and did not address the disproportionate poverty rates among both the Palestinian and ultra-orthodox Israelis (according to one of the OECD’s assessment reports, poverty rates among these two groups are roughly 50 and 60 percent, respectively, compared to a national average of just under 20 percent) until step number ten, where Netanyahu simply observed that the Israeli government, “must continue to encourage them to join the labor market and provide them with the appropriate tools to do so.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman echoed Netanyahu’s sentiments, and claimed that Israel’s acceptance was, “proof that it is recognized for its achievements, despite the fierce incitement against it in every conceivable arena: political, security, or economic.”

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DESPITE THE OECD’s assurances that the Israeli government had undertaken significant steps to bring its policies in line with the organization’s stated democratic principles, the continuity of the same Israeli policy that has guided it throughout the occupation evidenced in the week that followed Monday’s announcement indicated that the Israeli government’s right-wing elements did indeed consider accession a legitimization of their official positions toward the Palestinian people.

Lieberman, for instance, continued to assert that Jerusalem, the municipal boundaries of which Israel extend further into the West Bank after it conquered the city in 1967, belongs solely to the Israeli state, and that the freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank does not apply within the city. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed similar sentiments on May 12 when he declared, “[w]e will never divide Jerusalem.”

Netanyahu, who was speaking at the 43rd annual “Jerusalem Day” celebration, went on to argue that, while the city’s name appears 850 times in the Torah, it is only mentioned “142 times in the New Testament, and none of the 16 various Arabic names for Jerusalem is mentioned in the Koran.”

Despite a warning from the U.S. State Department that it would hold any party that took “significant actions” to undermine the onset of negotiations responsible for its transgressions, several Israeli officials declared that they plan to proceed with the plans announced by Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch to “resume razing [Palestinian] houses in East Jerusalem over the next few days.”

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz also reported on May 11 that in the Ramallah and al-Bireh Governorate, another part of the occupied West Bank, the Israel Defense Force intends to disregard a High Court of Justice ruling that gave it five months to stop prohibiting Palestinians from using Route 443, a highway that runs from the Qalandia Refugee Camp to the Palestinian town of Bayt Sira.

Israel’s refusal to lift its illegal blockade on the Gaza Strip also drew more criticism when Human Rights Watch released a report documenting twelve separate instances of Israeli troops destroying homes, factories, and orchards in the total absence of any “lawful military purpose” during the Israel Defense Force’s 2008/2009 invasion. The report also condemns the blockade on the movement of food, medicine, and humanitarian supplies into or out of the Gaza Strip as a form of illegal collective punishment, pointing out that this blockade is the responsible for the Gazan people’s inability to rebuild the civil infrastructure destroyed by Israel.

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THE ISRAELI government, which has not yet formulated a response to the HRW report, has indicated that it plans to maintain the blockade indefinitely, and the cabinet has mobilized roughly half of Israel’s naval forces to interdict or seize eight boats carrying humanitarian aid from Europe that are scheduled to dock in the Gaza Strip on May 24.

The 600 activists in this “Freedom Flotilla,” lead by the European Free Gaza campaign, maintain that any attempts to enforce its already illegal blockade by preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid would merely place the Israeli government in further violation of international law, and hope to deliver roughly 5,000 tons of building and medical supplies to the Gaza strip, despite threats from the Israeli Defense Ministry that it would prevent the boats from reaching Gaza “at any price.”

Finally, inside “Green Line Israel,” both Jewish and Palestinian academics, lawyers and human rights activists gathered outside the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court in Israel’s Central District on May 12 to protest the arrest and remand of Omar Sayid and Ameer Makhoul, two well-known and highly respected charity workers and activists who were arrested by Israel’s Shin Bet security service on April 24 and May 6, respectively, and whose lawyers have repeatedly been prevented from meeting with them.

These two prisoners are believed to have been arrested as part of the escalating political persecution of Palestinian Israeli activists that finally prompted Palestinian advocacy organizations inside Israel, such as Mossawa and Adallah, to begin contacting international human rights organizations and foreign diplomats in a plea for foreign intervention capable of stopping the persecution.

In light of Israel’s efforts to preclude the possibility of a viable Palestinian state, several questions have been raised regarding the implications of Israel’s acceptance into the OECD for the proximity talks that finally began between Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday.

Pointing out the coincidence of Israel’s accession with the resumption of proximity talks, Aluf Benn, editor-at-large for Haaretz, described the OECD’s decision as “a prize from Barack Obama,” and maintained that it was part of the U.S. government’s strategy of lining up incentives to coax the Israeli government into an agreement with the Palestinian Authority. The $205 million gift to Israel that Obama just asked Congress to authorize for its “Iron Dome” rocket defense system–on top of the $3 billion already slated for Israel’s military in the 2010 budget–is another such incentive.

Very few analysts, however, have noted that the duplicity evidenced by the U.S. government’s use of virtual bribery to coax Israel into complying with international law in contrast to its repeated threats to and calls for comprehensive sanctions on Iran–whose only substantiated crime at this point has been trying to build a nuclear power generator (and being populated by mostly Muslims)–is severely undermining U.S. credibility in the region.

This hypocrisy, in addition to the ongoing occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the U.S. government’s refusal to pressure Israel, with its undeclared arsenal of roughly 200 nuclear warheads, into joining the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, seriously limits the extent to which the U.S. will be able to act as a neutral arbitrator in any sort of peace negotiations.

Instead, it appears that both the Israeli and the U.S. government are hoping to negotiate a sequel to the failed Oslo Accords, which most Palestinians now consider little more than an officially sanctioned giveaway of their rights and their homes. The Palestinian Authority, however, appears to be well aware of U.S. intentions, and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat has repeatedly stated that Abbas will not even begin direct negotiations until Israel suspends all its settlement activity in East Jerusalem.

Hamas, which has been thus far largely ignored by both Israel and the U.S., has urged the Palestinian Authority to refuse to engage in U.S.-lead negotiations altogether, arguing that they would merely “give cover to the Israeli occupation to commit more crimes against our people.” As a result, few expect the proximity talks to lead anywhere meaningful.

In this context, the decision to offer Israel membership in the OECD reflects the typical approach of the U.S. government to the Israeli occupation. Rather than attempting to build an actual consensus between the two parties, or with the rest of the international community, the U.S. and Israel have consistently sought to advance their own interests in the peace negotiations, and have attempted to impose various “compromises” on the Palestinian negotiators.

Part of this long-standing tradition of rejectionism stems from the U.S. government’s desire to protect its own interests in the region; interests which it believes would be threatened by any state, Palestinian or otherwise, capable of asserting its independence from the U.S., and possibly aligning itself with Iran or–even worse–China. The rest stems from disinterest–as far as the U.S. government is concerned, Israel is free to do whatever it likes to the Palestinians, just so long as it does not escalate to the point that it creates conflicts with the U.S. government’s other strategic relationships in the region.

Accordingly, the U.S. government is far more interested in keeping Israel happy and finding an expedient solution to the problem than it is in actually protecting the Palestinians. This disregard for the international community’s consensus is also why the Obama administration, like its predecessors, is working through elite financial institutions like the OECD, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization, instead of more democratic institutions like the United Nations.

As many people are beginning to realize, however, this narrow approach to the issue is no longer likely to be considered acceptable by the Palestinians, as they have already endured the Oslo Peace Accords and now enjoy much stronger support from the international community than they have in the past.

This is why most observers see the Obama administration’s current efforts to start negotiations as doomed from the outset, and have begun to realize that the only way to actually resolve the conflict is to negotiate a settlement that both the Israelis and, more importantly, the Palestinians feel satisfactorily resolves the issues of the illegal settlements already introduced during Israel’s occupation, the ongoing discrimination against Palestinians in Israel, and the status of the refugees expelled in 1948 and again in 1967.

While temporary compromises can bring the world closer to a resolution, no agreement that neglects any of these three issues will ever bring peace to Israel or Palestine.

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