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Bending the Rules for Israel

by NADIA HIJAB

Israel’s inexorable accession to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development country club — is set to be confirmed this month barring last-minute hitches. Although several OECD members have doubts about Israel’s qualifications both on technical grounds and lack of shared values, no state has dared publicly oppose.

Instead, public opposition has been left to a loose and unusual network of Palestinian and Jewish organizations that have been hard at work lobbying European countries, Turkey, the United States, and other members. It has also provided a rare point for common action between Palestinian official and civil society organizations.

The “technical issues” that worried the OECD include corruption, particularly in the arms industry; intellectual property rights, particularly in the drugs industry; and the occupation.

More specifically about the occupation, Israel included data covering its illegal settlements and annexed territories in its economic report, according to a leaked OECD document cited by 18 Irish parliamentarians who called on their government to oppose Israel’s membership. The OECD has apparently resolved this issue by inserting a disclaimer. It will use Israeli data without prejudice to the status of the occupied territories, as Avi Shlaim and Simon Mohun wrote in their Guardian comment calling for OECD conditions on Israeli membership.

However, prominent legal experts have raised serious problems regarding state obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention if OECD member states pursue this planned course of action. And this may still throw up a last-minute hurdle.

Besides, as Israeli economist Shir Hever of the Alternative Information Center has pointed out, the data give an unrealistic picture of Israel’s standard of living because settlers receive more services than Israeli citizens within the Green Line. He also notes that were the Palestinians under occupation to be included Israel “would have to be refused accession because of the enormous disparities in wealth.”

Most seriously, from a human rights perspective, the OECD has completely ignored its own Road Map for Israel’s accession, which states that Israel has to demonstrate a commitment to pluralist democracy based on the rule of law. Indeed, only a democracy can join the OECD. A 17-point memo to the OECD by the worldwide Palestinian coalition BNC (the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee) listed the many ways in which Israel does not uphold the rule of law at home or abroad.

As if on cue, Israel has just provided a compelling illustration by arresting one of its most respected citizens – Ameer Makhoul – and depriving him of due process. The indefatigable Makhoul heads Ittijah, the coalition of 64 major civil society organizations representing the Palestinian citizens of Israel. He was seized at 3 am and separated from his wife and two daughters as the police ransacked their home.

In formalizing Makhoul’s detention, Israel’s security forces ordered him deprived of an attorney for at least two days. Israel recently prohibited Makhoul from travel for two months. In an article he had just written about the ban — published by Electronic Intifada on the day of his arrest — Makhoul pointed out that the accusations against him are based on “secret evidence that I am not allowed to see.” In yet another suspension of democratic norms, Israel imposed a blanket media gag on the arrest — a bizarre move since the news spread round the world in minutes, and a Facebook page was established within hours.

The OECD hopes to influence Israeli behavior from within the organization, according to groups lobbying against accession. Who knows? Maybe the OECD will have better luck than the United Nations. Israel pledged to let Palestinian refugees return home when it become a UN member state. Sixty-two years on, we’re still waiting…

Outrageous though it is, OECD member states are swayed more by economic than political arguments. Indeed, the OECD has praised Israel for liquidating the welfare state, privatizing government assets and undermining workers’ negotiating power.

“It’s like a trade agreement so it’s not used to lobbying based on human rights,” explained Miri Weingarten, who heads the London-based JNews, a platform for news and comment by anti-occupation Jewish groups. Anti-occupation — and in some cases — anti-Zionist groups opposing Israeli actions have flowered in Europe since the Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008. Several have joined in the European Jews for a Just Peace network, which has led the effort against OECD membership for Israel until it upholds the law.

The determined, multifaceted outreach to member capitals in Europe, Asia and the United States had chalked up previous successes. For example, the European Union’s planned upgrade of relations with Israel was put on hold in the wake of Israel’s Gaza attack. Intensive lobbying by several churches and non-government organizations — including three Israeli human rights organizations, B’Tselem, HaMoked and Physicians for Human Rights — has helped prevent it from being acted on since.

Despite the OECD setback, parliamentarians and civil society are now mobilized in their demand that governments use economic measures to hold their peers accountable. As Ameer Makhoul wrote just before his arrest, “Injustice unites us; we are all together in this struggle.”

NADIA HIJAB is a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies.

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