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Political coup? Israel welcomed into OECD despite criticism over Gaza, settlements.

At an official OECD welcome of Israel in Paris today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touted the economic benefits of membership. Palestinians say the OECD has effectively legitimized Israel's occupation.

By Erin CunninghamCorrespondent / May 27, 2010

From l.-r., Estonia's Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, Chile's Finance Minister Felipe Larrain, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Slovenia's Prime Minister Borut Pahor and Secretary General of Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Angel Gurria join hands during the OECD Forum and Ministerial Council to Focus on Innovation, Growth in Paris Thursday.

Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

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Jerusalem

Israel won an important symbolic victory against its international critics today, as it officially joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

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Membership in the elite, staunchly capitalist 31-member club has long been sought by Israel as a stamp of approval on its efforts to transform itself from a nation of socialist farmers to a high-tech powerhouse that dramatically outperforms its Middle Eastern neighbors.

“The membership opens up to us access to sources of investment available only to developed economies,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Paris today, where the OECD welcomed Israel, Estonia, and Slovenia to its ranks. “There are global funds with enormous amounts of money that have specific amounts of money they must invest in developed economies, a category we are now included in.”

IN PICTURES: Israeli settlements

But while Mr. Netanyahu has focused on economic benefits, others have touted Israel's accession to the OECD as a political coup after being buffeted by calls for sanctions and economic boycotts against Israel, particularly since its three-week offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip last year.

“This is definitely being portrayed in Israel as a victory of legitimacy [and] acceptance in the international community,” says Shir Hever, an Israeli economist and head of the left-leaning Alternative Information Center. "Israel wants to – and will – be called a developed democracy.”

Israel: No. 1 in investing GDP into R&D

The gross domestic product (GDP) of this Mediterranean country of 7 million is more than $200 billion, just behind Hong Kong – which has a similar population. Its annual per capita income is nearly $30,000, nearly six times that of neighboring Egypt and on par with the US state of Idaho and .

Israel also invests more of its GDP into scientific research and development than any other country in the world, according to the World Bank.

“Israel, with a population of greater Philadelphia, has about as many start-ups as the United States," says Daniel Doron, director of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress in Jerusalem. " We are a great asset to the OECD, we belong there.”

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