(photo credit: Ben Spier )
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the secretary-general of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) signed an immunity and benefit agreement on Tuesday as a condition for Israeli membership in the organization.
According to the deal, OECD representatives in Israel will be granted diplomatic immunity and a preferential legal status.
Earlier Tuesday, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria - who began a two-day visit here Tuesday ahead of the Israel's accession process - met Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and said that Israel had to make more of an effort and overcome a number of challenges if it wanted to be accepted into the organization.
Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres expressed his confidence that Israel's anticipated OECD membership would provide an opportunity for the Jewish state to show its other face, that of technology, innovation and care for all its citizens.
The president's optimistic forecast came during a meeting in Jerusalem with Gurria.
Peres told Gurria that Israel thanked him and the OECD for the productive process, and was happily preparing to join the organization. By being a member state, Israel would have a platform to showcase the other Israel, that of innovation, leading technology, science and care for all its citizens, Peres added.
The president also expressed his confidence to Gurria that once peace between Israel and its neighbors reigns, the country's gross domestic produce (GDP) would grow to $35,000 per capita.
Gurria then handed Peres a copy of the organization's most recent report on Israel, its welfare and labor market, and told the president that the OECD was working with the relevant government ministries to deal with the remaining gaps. This is an exciting process for us, Gurria said, and we'd like to report significant progress in the field.
In an additional Tuesday meeting with Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, Gurria praised Erdan and his office for Israel's significant progress in preserving the environmental conditions set by the organization, according to a statement by the ministry. Gurria made special note of Israel's declared destination to reduce anticipated carbon emissions by 20% in 2020.
OECD officials have stressed that the purpose of the visit is not to negotiate compliance issues, which will need to be discussed in the relevant OECD committees.
The main purpose of Gurria's trip is to present two major reports authored by the organization as part of the co-option process - one on Israeli macro-economic data (the EDRC report), and the other on the employment and welfare situation here (the ELSA report). The reports will be presented to Israeli officials on Wednesday.
Israel has complied with most of the norms and standards upheld by the 30 OECD member countries in the fields of financial markets, technology and innovation, and investment.
However, as Israel approaches the final stage of being accepted as a full member, the organization is urging Israel to tackle three critical issues regarding anti-corruption policy measures, in particular in the defense industry; compliance with intellectual property legislation common in OECD member countries; and the exclusion of statistics relating to territories, which are not considered part of the country.
One of the major stumbling blocks en route to membership is the insufficient progress Israel has made in passing laws to better fight corruption. The 38-country OECD Working Group on bribery last month urged Israel to step up its fight against bribery in international transactions, especially arms deals, if it wishes to join the OECD.
Although Israel signed the OECD's Anti-Bribery Convention in March last year, implementation and enforcement of the convention, which outlaws bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions, has been lagging behind.
The main criticism raised by the OECD is that the military censor in Israel protects companies that are part of the defense industry and sometimes prevents the media from reporting suspicions or investigations about Israeli companies' alleged bribery.
Furthermore, it calls on the censor's office to report allegations to the law-enforcement authorities even if the Israeli media are banned from reporting them. Currently, the censor is not required to do this.
Corporate corruption issues have been a problem for other OECD member countries such as the UK, which has been criticized for failing to adequately enforce the anti-bribery convention, with the recent BAE Systems scandal a case in point.
The second concern relates to Israel's compliance with intellectual property rights standards.
Joining the OECD, which includes the major players in the global economy, will enhance Israel's ability to conduct an ongoing dialogue with representatives of these economies; force an upgrade in Israel's public administration; improve Israel's corporate management; expand trade opportunities, and improve Israel's credit rating.