OECD Is One Place Where the Occupation Won't Count

Acceptance to the OECD is what PM Benjamin Netanyahu is getting from the international community in return for starting proximity talks with the Palestinians.

For Israel, joining the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is a major diplomatic achievement. Nothing better answers the calls for boycotting Israel than acceptance into the club of developed economies. The timing says it all: This is what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is getting from the international community in return for starting proximity talks with the Palestinians.

Until yesterday, only Netanyahu had given and given. He agreed to a Palestinian state, a freeze on settlement construction and an undeclared construction freeze in East Jerusalem. Now he's also receiving. "The world" rejected the Palestinian demand to leave Israel outside the prestigious organization and use acceptance as a bargaining chip to end the occupation of the West Bank.

The timing of the decision is critical - so close to the start of indirect talks and before difficulties and crises emerge that might taint the spirit of optimism. Had it been delayed, it may have been wasted.

Acceptance to the OECD is part of a fixed formula that was inaugurated during the early days of the peace process. Israel makes concessions to the Palestinians and receives something in kind from the West: more openness, more investments and more business. From Israel's point of view, the political process is a means to be accepted in Europe, America and Asia, not to create a "new Middle East." The Israeli economy faces west, not the neighboring countries.

Nothing more clearly expresses this attitude than acceptance to the OECD. Israel has always sought to become a member of international organizations where the Western bloc of nations enjoys a clear advantage. In the vast majority of UN institutions, for example, Israel is isolated and does not belong to any geographic group. So it can't elect or be elected. But there are no Arab countries in the OECD and the only Muslim member is Turkey, which yesterday voted in support of the unanimous acceptance of Israel into the group.

Joining the OECD bolsters the approach of Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who consider Israel "a villa in the jungle" - a small island of Western values and development in an Arab and Muslim sea. Now we're in the club and the Palestinians, Egyptians and even the Saudis aren't. They're not even on the waiting list. In the OECD they can't bother Israel with decisions condemning the occupation.