Palestinians Demand: Ban Settlement-based Soccer Teams or Face FIFA Vote

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Palestinian soccer chief Jibril Rajoub, left, and FIFA President Sepp Blatter in Ramallah in April.Credit: Reuters

Palestinian Football Association chairman Jibril Rajoub has demanded that the United Nations rule on the status of five Israeli soccer teams based in the West Bank as a condition for withdrawing a Palestinian proposal to ban Israel from FIFA.

The International Federation of Association Football is currently convening in Switzerland and was slated to vote on the Palestinian proposal on Friday.

A source within the Israeli delegation to the FIFA congress noted that Rajoub made the demand on Wednesday evening in response to a compromise deal suggested by Israel, which the source said addressed the majority of the Palestinian's demands.

According to the source, Israel offered a four-point proposal to the Palestinians:

1. Palestinian players and coaches will receive a specially identified car allowing them to travel with greater ease to Gaza from the West Bank, and from the West Bank to Israel and abroad.

2 Israel would loosen restrictions and promote soccer related projects within the West Bank, including the construction of a stadium and other facilities.

3. Israel would cover the costs of tax and customs Palestinians pay for  importing sports gear to the West Bank through Israel – predominantly via the Ashdod seaport.

4. A joint committee comprised of representatives from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and FIFA would be formed and would convene monthly to address day-to-day issues.

The source noted the FIFA president Sepp Blatter welcomed Israel's proposal but stressed it would need to receive Rajoub's blessing before the vote on banning Israel was removed from FIFA's slate.

According to the source, Rajoub acceded, but demanded the compromise include an article addressing the five Israeli soccer teams based in West Bank settlements. Rajoub demanded that FIFA pass the decision regarding their legality onto UN Sec.-Gen. Ban Ki-moon, who would have three months to decide whether they were within Israeli territory or not.

According to the FIFA's regulations, teams not located within Israeli territory needed Palestinians authorization to participate in Israeli leagues. In light of the fact that the UN does not recognize the West Bank as part of Israel, the decision would de facto force Israel's soccer federation to expel these teams from the league or run the risk of breaking FIFA's rules.

The source within the Israeli delegation said that Blatter was leaning towards accepting Rajoub's demand, in light of a desire to prevent the vote to ban Israel from taking place.

Israel allows five teams from West Bank settlements to operate under the soccer federation. The five teams are Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Bik’at Hayarden and Givat Ze’ev.

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