Israel officially joins world economic group


PARIS (JTA) — Israel’s economic status received a boost with its official entry into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Following more than 16 years of trying, Israel joined the 31 wealthiest nations  and became the first Middle Eastern member of the OECD at a ceremony Thursday in Paris.

"We in Israel are deeply honored by your invitation to join this club," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during the ceremony. "We see this not only as recognition of what we have achieved but as a vote of confidence for the future.”

Estonia and Slovenia also were welcomed into the group, which includes the world’s most developed countries. New members must still go through a detailed ratification process that can take a few months.

Membership can mean an increase in investment in a given country, but it also involves coordinating and sharing economic policies with other members.

Israel was accepted into the group by a unanimous vote of the 31 member states.

Israel’s GDP grew slightly in 2009, compared to an average decline for OECD member states. Its high per capita exports in technology and new legislation to curb bribery also were among reasons Israel was invited to join.

Israel’s “most dynamic” technological exports per capita were “quite amazing,” said OECD General Secretary Angel Gurria, considering the country’s short life span.

The Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister had urged the OECD not to invite Israel because of its, “aggressive and racist practices against the Palestinian people.”

Pro-Palestinian groups have held protests in Paris to contest the invitation to Israel.

Yet France’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, defended Israel’s OECD membership Thursday, calling it a decision based on “objective criteria” established by the group.

As an OECD member, Israel will be held accountable to strict review of its economic practices. In a January report, the OECD warned Israel that it must lower its 20 percent poverty rate, especially high among Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

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