Can the OECD Stand up to Israel?

By Sam Bahour and Charles Shamas

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 heritage-related responsibility.

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 OECD.

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 to promote?

– Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American freelance business consultant and serves as a Board of Trustees member at Birzeit University. He is also a Director at the Arab Islamic Bank and the community foundation Dalia Association. And Charles Shamas is a senior partner with the Mattin Group. His human rights practice is specialised in problems of international humanitarian law and human rights enforcement and state responsibility. Bahour contributed this article to (This article was published in the Guardian Online:

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