n May, Israel is expected to join the prestigious organization of developed economies, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Although the OECD claims to be an organization of democratic countries, in the past year it has accelerated efforts to invite Israel to become a member, despite Israel’s numerous violations of international law and military occupation of the Palestinian and Syrian territories. Israel seeks membership in the OECD vigorously, as it would be a powerful affirmation of international legitimacy to Israel’s policies.
It only takes one country to vote against accepting Israel in order to block the process, and that is why it is important for activists in all OECD countries to put pressure on their governments, raise questions in parliament and ask their foreign ministers how can they accept a state which violates international law, and doesn’t even meet the most basic requirements of the OECD.
What is especially interesting, is that the OECD is not even able to define Israel. What are the borders of this new state set to join the organization? It seems that OECD officials are well aware that Israel is very different than OECD countries. In fact, in its assessment of the Israeli social and economic situation, the OECD said that Israeli politics are defined by “policy agendas rooted in ethnicity and religion” (OECD, 2010a: 11). Nevertheless, there seem to be a great deal of pressure within the OECD to accept Israel, mainly because whitewashing Israel’s crimes helps legitimize similar crimes by other OECD countries.
The OECD Committee on Statistics was asked by the OECD to find a technical solution to what is essentially a political problem: how to deal with the occupied Palestinian territories under Israeli control. The Committee published a report, in which the confusion within the OECD regarding Israel’s territory is evident. The committee realizes that although the internationally-recognized borders of Israel are the 1967 borders (the “Green Line”), Israel controls a much larger territory, including the Gaza Strip, Syrian Golan Heights and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem). Furthermore, though Israel controls this wide territory, it ignores the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and only collects statistical data on the Israeli colonists in these areas, who comprise approximately 13% of the population there. Furthermore, Israeli statistics render it impossible to get an accurate view of the Israeli economy excluding the occupied territories, as the illegal settlements are included in every piece of data.
The OECD uses the 1993 System of National Accounts (SNA) in formulating statistical reports on OECD countries and on prospected members, which provides for situations where the political boundaries of a state may not coincide precisely with the economic boundaries of a state. However, the OECD Committee on Statistics found that this does not resolve the political issue – that Israel ignores the Palestinians but counts the settlers, creating an intentionally-distorted picture of the area which it controls, as well as of its national economy. Although Israel does indeed enforce full economic control over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, it does not include the majority of the population in these areas in its statistics, thus leaving the OECD Committee on Statistics with no statistical way to separate the data between the occupied territories and Israel proper (Statistics Directorate, Committee on Statistics, 2010: 4). As a result, the OECD asks that Israel will not include any statistics concerning these territories (although this would exclude about 7% of Israeli citizens from the statistics as well).
The insistence of the OECD that Israel exclude statistics concerning East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights from its reports to the OECD is tantamount to burying their head in the sand. The occupation of these areas remains in effect whether it is reported to the OECD or not.
Thus, the OECD reports presents false and deceptive information, as if 74.2% of people under Israeli control in 2007 were Jews (OECD, 2010a: 30), a figure which counts Israelis illegally living in the West Bank and the Golan Heights, but ignores the 3.8 million Palestinians under Israel’s control who are deprived of citizenship. Including the unemancipated Palestinians would bring the proportion of Jews in the areas under Israel’s control down to about 49%, clearly demonstrating Israel’s colonial policies of ethnic stratification, which the OECD chooses to ignore.
Indeed, by excluding about four million Palestinian subjects of Israeli occupation from the statistics, Israel creates a distorted and unrealistic image of its economy. It masks the stark inequality in income and in standards of living, it masks the deep poverty of large segments of the population, it masks the true extent of unemployment and the atrocious condition of welfare and social benefits in the areas controlled by Israel.
An internal discussion in the OECD has evolved around this question. Israel has proposed a technical solution, simply adding a footnote to the accession papers which states that the data including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights is used for technical reasons, and does not comment on the legal status of these territories. However, the OECD staff realizes that Israel can block the approval and publications of OECD documents containing this footnote, and thus suggests adopting a “language for the footnote which is acceptable to both OECD members and Israel.” In other words, the OECD is not putting any pressure on Israel to change its policies, but merely attempts to find a semantic way to avoid this explosive political topic (OECD, 2010b: 5).
As Israel is responsible, according to international humanitarian law, for the economic wellbeing of the Palestinian population under its control, the OECD should instead demand that Israel include in its statistics not only East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, but the entire area under Israeli control and under Israeli responsibility: the entire West Bank and the Gaza Strip. If this data would have been provided, Israel would not even be close to meeting the OECD standards for acceptance, and would be correctly seen as a developing country with deep social divides, a state of civil war, a non-democratic regime and a highly unstable political situation (Loss, 2010).
OECD’s tendency to ignore a large segment of population controlled by Israel represents uncritical acceptance of Israel’s views. Israeli officials have adopted a hostile approach even to groups among Israel’s own citizenry (and of course, maintain their hostility towards the occupied Palestinians). In the recent Herzaliya Conference in February (an annual high-profile conference where the Israeli elite meets to discuss policy) Haim Shani, the CEO of the Israeli Ministry of Finance, said that if the Arab and Haredi (ultra-orthodox Jews) populations would have been deducted from the calculation of Israel’s per-capita GDP, Israel would be one of the richest countries in the world (Foyer, 2010). His statement clearly demonstrates an establishment desire to see a “pure” Israel, devoid of ultra-orthodox religious Jews and devoid of Palestinians. This approach stands in complete contradiction to policies aimed at promoting equality and closing social gaps in society, and are conducive to policies of discrimination, patronizing minorities and eventually even ethnic cleansing.
The OECD takes decisions unanimously. It only takes a single OECD country, out of 30 current members, to block Israel’s inclusion into the organization. In light of the information above, it is puzzling and worrying that so far no country has made a clear stand on the matter.
1. The text for the footnote that was put forward by Israel is: “This report/review/document is not intended to cover the territories known as the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem and is without prejudice to positions regarding those territories. However, for technical reasons, this report/review/document uses Israel’s official statistics, which include data relating to the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.”
Foyer, Dror, 2010, “The Main thing is the Statistics,” Globes Magazine, February 11th, 2010.
Loss, Yossi, 2010, “The True Data of Israel,” Haoketz, 23.1.2010, file:///E:/Files/To%20Work%20ON/Bulletin%2026%20-%20OECD/Sources/Haoketz_real%20Israeli%20stats.asp.
OECD, 2010a, OECD Economic Surveys: Israel, Volume 2009/21-January 2010, Supplement No. 3, OECD Publishing.
OECD, 2010b, Accession Progress Reort, February 11th, 2010.
Statistics Directorate, Committee on Statistics, 2010, “Accesion of Israel to the Organization: Draft Formal Opinion of the Committee on Statistics,” OECD, February 1st, 2010.