Netanyahu in Paris fetes Israel's OECD entry
Israel officially joined the OECD club of rich economies Thursday, giving a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he heads for talks in Washington on the faltering Middle East peace process.
Netanyahu attended a ceremony at the Paris headquarters of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as it welcomed Israel along with Estonia, Slovenia and Chile to the 31-nation grouping.
"We in Israel are deeply honoured by your invitation to join this club," Netanyahu said. "We see this not only as recognition of what we have achieved, but as a vote of confidence" for the future, he added.
OECD member states decided this month to invite Israel to join despite objections from Palestinians, who argued that letting Israel in would be a breach of the Paris-based group's commitment to human rights.
The ceremony came as the Israeli leader prepared for a key meeting with US President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday.
OECD membership means Israel's status with foreign investment funds switches from that of an emerging economy to a developed one, opening up new sources of capital.
The invitation caps a 16-year campaign waged by Israel for membership and Netanyahu had hailed the decision as one of "strategic importance", bringing Israel into the club of the "world's elite economies".
Netanyahu began his visit with lunch at the Elysee Palace, posing for the cameras with French President Nicolas Sarkozy before heading into talks on advancing Middle East peace, bilateral relations and Iran.
Sarkozy voiced hope that a UN sanctions resolution against Iran that will be "the most strongly-worded possible" will soon be adopted at the Security Council, Elysee officials said.
"I think he's been forthright and very clear throughout his presidency about the need to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and I expressed appreciation for that," Netanyahu told reporters following his meeting.
France has been at the forefront of western calls for a fourth round of sanctions against Iran over its failure to meet demands that it halt uranium enrichment, the main ingredient in nuclear bomb-making.
On the Middle East peace track, a significant diplomatic move came on Wednesday when White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel delivered an invitation to Netanyahu from Obama.
The Netanyahu-Obama working meeting on Tuesday is to discuss "our shared security interests as well as our close cooperation in seeking peace between Israel and its neighbours," Emanuel said after talks with the Israeli leader in Jerusalem.
Israeli newspapers described the invitation as a sign that Obama is seeking to turn a new leaf in relations with the Likud leader that have been strained by a dispute over Jewish settlements.
Obama has also invited Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to visit in June in his latest bid to revive direct negotiations after an 18-month break.
Indirect talks were first agreed in March but the initiative collapsed within days when Israel announced plans to build 1,600 settler homes in east Jerusalem.
In France, many in Jewish intellectual circles increasingly see Netanyahu as an obstacle to peace rather than an engaged party.
An online petition dubbed the "European Jewish Call for Reason" or "JCall" has gathered more than 6,000 signatures, including prominent Jewish figures such as philosophers Bernard-Henri Levy and Alain Finkielkraut.
Netanyahu will travel to Canada on Friday before heading to Washington.
© 2010 AFP