It is not every day that some of Israel’s harshest critics raise their hands in favour of the Jewish State. So on Monday when Norway, Ireland, Turkey and the 28 other members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) officially accepted Israel as a fully fledged member, Israelis felt that they might be doing something right after all.
The OECD has hailed “Israel’s scientific and technological policies” that have produced “outstanding outcomes on a world scale”. Despite huge waves of immigrants from underdeveloped countries in the past six decades and even though a constant security threat has drained a large portion of the annual budget, Israel apparently boasts a much healthier economy than many of its new colleagues.
Israel’s economy grows much faster than in most developed countries (5 per cent annual average between 2003 and 2008), and its unemployment rate, currently at 7.3 per cent, is lower than the EU’s 9.6 per cent. In fact, analysts say, if it was only down to economics, Israel should have been admitted to the club much earlier.
Joining the prestigious group, therefore, was more of a political matter, something the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, understood. To Israel’s dismay, Fayyad (together with an Arab-Israeli Member of Parliament) campaigned against Israel’s inclusion.
Some Israeli critics have warned against euphoria but the overall reaction is one of jubilation. The Jerusalem Post wrote that it is “undoubtedly a victory for the embattled Jewish State”, while the left-leaning Haaretz suggested that “the timing says it all: this is what Prime Minister Netanyahu is getting from the international community in return for starting proximity talks with the Palestinians.” The economic analyst of Israel’s most-read daily, Yedioth Ahronot, went so far as calling it a “historic moment”, since “for a state that is merely 62 years old, with a population of a mere 7.5 million and which so many would like to destroy, full membership in OECD is an act with deep national and international significance”.
Joining the OECD will hardly affect the lives of ordinary Israelis – at least not in the near future. According to the Israeli Finance Ministry, the most important outcome would be the possibility to attract bigger loans and on better terms. ”The significance is more diplomatic,” says Daniel Doron, founder and director of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress, who has served as an adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu since the early 1990s. “There is a lot of hostility today towards the State of Israel in Europe, and this could help in toning it down. On the economic side, it is an important step of course, but we must remember that Greece, for example, is a proud and veteran member of the OECD, and it didn’t really help it in the current crisis.”
OECD secretary general Angel Gurría added a note of caution, saying that Israel has to tackle its high poverty rate. But still, at least for one day, Israel felt that the western democracies saw it as a thriving and free nation.