Can the OECD stand up to Israel?
The upcoming OECD tourism summit in Jerusalem will test its member
countries' commitment to international law
By Sam Bahour and Charles Shamas
Tuesday 12 October 2010 12.00 BST
What can be said for the state of international law when international
organisations such as the OECD find themselves unable to prevent a member
country from bringing its unlawful practice into the life of the
organisation itself? In such situations, how can law-abiding member
countries avoid being drawn into acquiescence? Later this month, these
questions may find answers when Israel hosts an OECD gathering in
Jerusalem to discuss global tourism.
The OECD is an international economic organisation of 33 countries, with
the latest controversial addition to this club being Israel. The OECD
explains its mission as providing "a setting where governments compare
policy experiences, seek answers to common problems, identify good
practice and co-ordinate domestic and international policies". At minimum,
one would expect the co-ordination of these "international policies" to
remain within the bounds of international law.
At Israel's invitation, the 86th session of the OECD tourism committee
will take place in Jerusalem on 20 and 21 October to discuss supporting a
sustainable and competitive tourism industry for the benefit of the
members' economies. The session will be attended by senior government
officials from OECD member countries and key emerging economies. This is
only the second time that the meeting has been held outside Paris.
Israel will conduct itself as the host and as an OECD member based on the
Israeli ministry of tourism's unlawful unilateral extension of its
jurisdiction to include occupied East Jerusalem, the Syrian Golan Heights
and touristic sites and businesses in those parts of the West Bank
reserved for Israeli settlement.
Israel's ministry of tourism website clearly lists tourist sites in
occupied territory, such as the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the
Holy Sepulchre, as Israeli sites. The ministry's websites also publicise
settlement-based tourist services licensed by the ministry and receiving
Israeli state financial support under the ministry's auspices. They
present maps that depict the entire territory of historic Palestine west
of the Jordan river, as well as the Syrian Golan, as territory of Israel
that falls under Israel's national tourism-related and cultural
Despite OECD efforts to the contrary, photographs of touristic sites in
occupied territory have been incorporated in a website that Israel has
constructed under OECD auspices.
Last month, the Right to Enter campaign – a grassroots campaign for the
freedom of movement to/from and within the occupied Palestinian
territories, for which we volunteer – wrote to each OECD member to
explain the situation and the harm that will be done by allowing such
Israeli practice under OECD auspices, and by acquiescing to Israel's
insistence on basing its participation in the OECD on its illegal acts of
annexation and settlement in occupied territory.
All OECD member countries refuse to recognise Israel's illegal annexation
of East Jerusalem and have therefore insisted in keeping their embassies
in Tel Aviv instead of Israel's self- proclaimed "unified" capital. They
presumably would not want to be drawn into acts or omissions that would
imply that Israeli practice resulting from the very acts of annexation and
settlement they condemn as internationally unlawful can be considered
legitimate under the OECD's auspices.
It remains to be seen how they will manage to avoid such missteps. It is
hardly encouraging that during the runup to the tourism meeting web pages
bearing the OECD emblem continue to advertise touristic and cultural
heritage sites in the occupied Palestinian territories as Israeli.
It is difficult to overlook the fact that Israel has been permitted to
base its performance of its obligations and conduct its participation in
OECD activities on its own policies of settlement and annexation,
notwithstanding the duty of the OECD and its member countries not to
recognise these Israeli practices as lawful or give them effect within the
Countries planning to attend include Spain, Australia, Austria, Belgium,
Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece,
Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands,
New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea,
Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States.
For those countries that decide to attend, the devil will be in the
details. The proficiency of their delegates at identifying and preventing
the importation of Israel's violations of international law into the
proceedings and surrounding events will be sorely tested.
It can make no sense for world leaders to allow themselves to be drawn
progressively into acquiescing to Israel's serious and persistent
violations of international law while continuing to demand that
Palestinians respect and place their confidence in international law after
62 years of dispossession and 43 years of military occupation.
Yet Israel has become a habitual violator and has also become highly
proficient at dragging other states along with it. If the OECD and its
member countries cannot be expected to effectively resist this pull, who
can be expected to hold the line? Who is left to defend the normative
foundations of the just and peaceful world order that states and
international organisations like the OECD regularly proclaim their resolve