OECD J'lem summit to go ahead despite Arab pressure

Arab League, PA attempts to make member states boycott doesn't stop economic group's tourism summit taking place in capital.

Stas Meseznikov 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Stas Meseznikov 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Despite pressure being exerted by the Arab League and the Palestinian Authority on OECD member states to boycott the OECD tourism summit that starts in Jerusalem on Wednesday, most countries have elected to attend.
As of Monday, 24 out of 33 OECD member states have confirmed they will send delegations, the Tourism Ministry said.
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The member states that have yet to confirm their attendance are Belgium, Ireland, Iceland, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
Participating states that are not members include India, Estonia and Romania.
Mohammed Sobeih, deputy secretary-general for Palestinian affairs for the Cairo-based Arab League, told reporters on Monday that the league sent letters to foreign ministers, especially from Europe, urging a boycott of the conference because it was being held in Jerusalem.
“The Arab League views with extreme concern the holding of the OECD tourism conference in Jerusalem,” Sobeih said.
“Israel takes advantage of such events to try to convince public opinion there has been a favorable response to its ideas that are hostile to peace and to its practices, which pose a real obstacle to peace.”
Saeb Erekat, the PA’s chief negotiator, said, “Israeli control over Jerusalem is illegal and the [UN] Security Council has been clear on calling all member states not to recognize Israeli claims over the Holy City.
“By hosting the OECD conference in Jerusalem, Israel seeks de facto recognition of its illegal annexation of east Jerusalem, and by not attending, countries have sent Israel a clear message that it is not a state above the law.
“The OECD is a widely respected organization. Its member states are considered role models for the international community. Israel’s actions in the occupied Palestinian territory, included east Jerusalem, completely contradict the values of the organization,” Erekat said.
“Holding this conference in Jerusalem creates the perception that the OECD is complicit with Israel’s provocative and unlawful actions in this occupied city.”
Erekat called on those states that have indicated that they will participate in the conference “to cancel their participation and to publicly repudiate illegal Israeli actions, including the unilateral annexation of occupied east Jerusalem.”
Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov told reporters that he knew of no countries that were boycotting the conference, aside from Turkey. He said that he saw tourism as a bridge to peace and an issue people could come together on, despite their political differences.
Meseznikov denied that it was he who had put OECD member countries’ attendance at the summit in a political light, saying media reports that he had equated participation in the Jerusalem summit to recognition of the city as Israel’s capital were incorrect.
“I said that the existence of this summit, which will be held for the second time in history outside of Paris, shows appreciation for Israel as a economic and tourism powerhouse.
I also said that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, which is a fact.
“However, I never said that other states’ participation in the summit meant they recognized Jerusalem as the capital,” Meseznikov said. “I am trying to keep this event on a professional level and don’t want political views to interfere.”
Meseznikov also denied that the conference was scheduled to include tours in east Jerusalem, as had been reported earlier.
He said his ministry had wanted to invite the Palestinian minister of tourism to attend the summit, but that it was forbidden from doing so because the PA is not a member state or an observer state in the OECD.
Meseznikov said that the PA could only benefit from strengthening tourism cooperation with Israel, since any growth in tourism to Israel meant growth for the PA, too.
The ministry’s efforts at marketing Israel as the Holy Land brings pilgrims and tourists to holy sites in the PA as well.
“I see it as a win-win scenario in terms of tourism and economics.
As long as we are growing in numbers, they are growing too,” Meseznikov said.
He said that Israel was one of the 10 strongest countries in terms of tourism growth and that summit would be an opportunity to both learn from other countries and share Israel’s experience.
The summit, which will be held in the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyenei Ha’uma) from Wednesday through Friday, will deal with “green growth,” the OECD program to develop and promote environmental policy as a means to economic growth. The conference will discuss the tourism aspects of the program and the ways in which tourism can contribute both in developing the green tourism product, the ecological effects on tourism, identifying green business opportunities and more.