THE SPINE MAY 11, 2010
Everybody actually knows that. “The new Middle East” is a psychedelic fantasy of the perennially intoxicated peace processors. The dream will go on forever. And maybe it will be punctuated positively a tiny bit by practical arrangements on the ground. But probably not through the “proximity talks,” which the Obama administration has somehow convinced itself is a great achievement, which I have argued in print it is not.
In any case, yesterday, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a consortium of the most industrially and technologically advanced countries (with a few not so advanced), unanimously voted to admit Israel to its ranks. This was reported more or less everywhere.
But Aluf Benn in Ha’aretz got the story not only straight, but also with its important collateral meanings. It is true that Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden raised some objections to the statistical inclusion of productivity from the West Bank settlements in Israel’s application. Having so cheaply salved their conscience, they went on to vote for admittance of the Jewish state into the Organization.
Now, one of the European foreign policy establishment’s great heroes in would-be Palestine is Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, who is certainly more popular in Sweden than in his own homeland. He spent the last week on the phone calling the political leadership of the OECD and also of its member countries to plead for overturning what was actually the inevitable outcome of the process.
Benn attributes the relative ease of Israel’s OECD entry to the politics of Bibi Netanyahu (whom Benn doesn’t like at all):
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
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.
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.
In Paris, even Turkey voted to admit Israel to the fraternity. What chances do you think Istanbul has for membership in the European Union?