Lieberman, OECD Sign Deal to Usher in Israeli Membership

Israeli Arab MK urges OECD to reject Israel; Peres: Joining OECD will show Israel's other face to world.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development secretary-general signed an agreement on Tuesday as a condition for Israeli membership in the international economic group, Army Radio reported.

According to the deal, OECD representatives in Israel will be granted diplomatic immunity and a preferential legal status.

Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi earlier on Tuesday urged the OECD to reject Israel's request for membership, saying state-led discrimination against the Arab sector ran counter to the group's regulations.

Confidence is mounting in the Jerusalem corridors that Israel will join the OECD this May, becoming the 32nd member. The final decision will be made by the organization's ministerial committee, following a visit this week by a delegation headed by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria.

During a meeting with Gurria on Tuesday, Peres emphasized that membership in the organization would enable Israel to show the world its technological and scientific face.

Boaz Hirsch, head of the Foreign Trade administration at the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, said the process of Israel's addition to the OECD ranks has reached the final stage. However, a Jerusalem official close to the talks qualified this optimism, saying, "In politics, nothing is final until it's final, and today there are more countries angry with Israel."

Jerusalem circles have agreed that, if it does in fact join, Israel will be represented in the OECD by a special embassy located in Paris, not by the Israeli ambassador in Paris.

The ambassador to the OECD will hail from the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry and his deputy will be an official from the Finance Ministry.

During his visit, Gurria met with Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Lieberman, Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer and other officials.

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is expected to provide a review of steps Israel is taking to implement the OECD's recommendations regarding education, employment, labor and social affairs.

Although the OECD has applauded Israel for its economic management, it remains concerned about the country's high level of national debt relative to gross domestic product, as well as its heavy spending on security.