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Israel's accession compromises the OECD's principles

Israel's accession to the OECD has compromised the organisation and amounts to a tacit endorsement of the occupation, argues Seyfeddin Kara, a delegate to Turkey on behalf of the Islamic Human Rights Council, which campaigned against Israel's accession.
Seyfeddin Kara
16 June 2010

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), one of the most prestigious economic clubs in the world, was founded in 1961. It currently has 31 member states, mostly EU states and other developed countries including the US. At present, organization members account for 60 percent of global wealth.

Its implication in the distribution of Marshall Plan aid, for which purpose its predecessor, the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation, was founded, has left it open to criticism. In its convention, the OECD claims that it 'brings together the governments of countries committed to democracy and market economy' in order ‘to help governments and society reap the full benefits of globalisation, while tackling the economic, social and governance challenges that can accompany it.’ Its values are stated as ‘respect for human rights’, ‘commitment to democracy’ and the ‘principle of the United Nations’.

Although the OECD has long been criticized for its commitment to US hegemony in the economical arena, it has never been so blatant in breaching its own fundamental principles as well as the international law.

On 10 May, 31 members of the organization voted for the accession of Israel, which had been seeking to join the OECD for the last 20 years. Due to Israel’s egregious human rights record and belligerent attitude towards Palestinians and other neighbouring countries, the OECD had been delaying Israel’s admission into the exclusive club.

However, the OECD has recently changed its position and concluded the process in favour of Israel’s admission. On the 27 May, the ministers of the member countries signed the official papers and Israel was made a member state to the organization along with Slovenia and Estonia.

There is no immediate benefit that Israel might enjoy following its accession. However, there will be long-term advantages for the Israeli economy and, of course, a boost in morale. It is very likely that as a result of the accession, Israel's credit rating will be upgraded. Consequently, it will be easier for the Israeli firms to raise funds and obtain grants. The timing of the accession is especially significant for Israel as it comes at a time when Israel has begun to feel the heat of the international economic boycott campaign.

In this regard, the accession delighted Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. He stated in a radio interview: It is ‘a historic success... because it gives legitimacy to Israel as an advanced and developed country’. Unfortunately, the accession does not merely give legitimacy to the economic prospects of Israel. It also gave legitimacy to the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands, the Golan Heights and the creation/annexation of the Jewish settlements. It has also given legitimacy to the apartheid regime that has been ferociously discriminating against the Palestinians.

A renowned expert and barrister on international law, Guy S. Goodwin-Gill from Oxford University, presented his legal opinion before the OECD in an attempt to warn against the dreadful repercussions of Israel’s admission to the OECD. He averred that Israel’s accession ‘raises serious legal concern for all states party to’ major international conventions including the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, Hague Convention, Regulation of 1907 and of course customary international law governing occupation. In addition, Goodwin-Gill warned that the member states should take into consideration the International Court of Justice's Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice in Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The OECD took no heed of the warnings of Goodwin-Gill and the many activists and NGOs around the world that campaigned against Israel’s admission.

The Israeli statistics that are submitted to OECD included Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Golan Heights and exclude the Palestinian population. This undoubtedly contravened EU policy as these settlements have not been recognized by international law.

Further, prior to the announcement of Israel’s accession a leaked report documented that the OECD requested Israel to either include the Palestinians and the settlers in the West Bank, or neither of the two parties. The same request was also made for the Golan Heights. However, according to the same document, this issue was not considered an obstacle for Israel to become a member of the OECD. The proposed solution allowed Israel to submit the requested data, one year after joining the OECD. This means that, as a full member, Israel will have power to veto the demands of the OECD, and thus avoid submitting updated figures about the West Bank and Golan Heights.

Shir Hever, a Quds/Jerusalem based economist had earlier exposed the political legerdemain that the OECD and Israel performed in the accession process. He disclosed that the OECD omitted the four million Palestinians living under the ghastly occupation and accepted Israel’s population as seven million. Both OECD and Israel wanted to lower the population figures by omitting the Palestinians, so that disproportionate distribution of wealth would not be an obstacle in the accession process of Israel, which according to BBC has the highest poverty level (20 percent) of OECD members.

The Geneva Convention binds Israel to have responsibility towards the economic well being of four million Palestinians who live under occupation. However, Israel continuously denies the rights of Palestinians as occupied subjects. Yet, by allowing Israel into OECD the international community gives legitimacy to Israeli atrocities.

The OECD, in its assessment of Israel’s socio-economic situation, acknowledged that Israeli laws are essentially discriminatory. Currently, Israel has thirty laws that give privilege to Jews over non-Jews. These laws by themselves were enough to disqualify Israel from membership as they breach the core values of the OECD; the ‘respect for human rights’ and ‘commitment to democracy’.

Finally, as has been affirmed by the Russell Tribunal, European law forbids European countries from recognizing the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. However, by granting membership to the OECD, the member states have given credence to the economic apartheid regime. Also by indirectly acknowledging the illegal occupation, they become complicit in Israeli war crimes documented in the Goldstone report.

The OECD member states, especially the EU countries, which have always ostensibly championed human rights and democracy, have gravely breached international law as well as the core principles of the OECD. Thus, once more they have revealed their hypocrisy and vulnerability toward the pressures of the US-Israeli alliance.

Unsurprisingly, Turkey was the only OECD member state to protest Israel’s admission. Although, they yielded to vigorous US pressure and thus did not go all the way and veto Israel, they took courage to officially voice the concerns of the Palestinians just before the voting took place at the OECD meeting. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself read out the official statement of Turkey to the dignitaries of the Islamic Human Rights Commission led delegation of which I was a member, in a meeting at the Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul.

The statement included a demand that:

Israel must adhere to the principles of the OECD and bring an end to the violation of the international law. Therefore, as it is stated in UN resolution 1860, Israel must immediately stop the siege of Gaza and the tragic human rights abuses of the Palestinians. The settlement policy of Israel in the West Bank and East Quds is unacceptable for us. Israel must immediately halt these activities and any other policies that may disrupt the wellbeing and harmony of the Palestinians... In this regard, we want to emphasize that the acceptance of Israel into the OECD should not be considered as a legitimization of the occupation.

It was obvious from his words that there was tremendous pressure coming from the US and European countries that Turkey was not ready to ignore yet. However, it was also apparent that there was no substantial pressure or support from the Muslim public that would have convinced him that the time to stand up against the US had come.

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