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WASHINGTON - Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was out batting for Israel yesterday, meeting several finance ministers who have gathered in Washington for the International Monetary Fund's annual meeting. "I am making every effort, and concentrating on getting us into the OECD," he told Haaretz. The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) is regarded as a rich man's club, constituting 30 member countries from among the most developed and richest nations. Israel is not one of them.

However, Netanyahu noted that there was a problem. He explained that there was an argument inside the OECD between the Americans and the Europeans, which was in the meantime, preventing any new countries form joining the prestigious club. "But when they settle their differences," he said, "and agree to let in a group of two to three countries, I hope we will be among them. The obstacle is actually the Americans who would first of all like to see reforms in the OECD before any other country joins."

The minister recognizes that by joining the OECD, Israel would enjoy not just a certain status but also the benefits and disciplines on the economic side. "There is a reasonable chance that after our joining the OECD, Israel would be able to join the European Monetary Union," he added.

Satisfying the fiscal and monetary regulations of such illustrious organizations would allow Israel, if it chose, to adopt the euro as its currency. The country though would have to abide by strict conditions on the size of its government borrowing (the budget deficit as a proportion of its GDP) and its national debt. Adopting the European currency would also boost trade in goods, services and people too.

In his meetings with several finance ministers yesterday, Netanyahu said that he had found widespread support for Israel's joining the OECD. But then former finance minister Avraham Shochat found similar support when he touted Israel's joining the OECD at the IMF meet in Prague in 2000.