Maybe FIFA Can Still Bring Peace to the Middle East?

Arrests of senior FIFA officials a few days before vote on expulsion of Israel from international football association is certainly fodder for conspiracy theories.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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FIFA President Sepp Blatter kicks a ball during the inauguration of a football stadium in the village Dura Al-Qari' near the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 20, 2015.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter kicks a ball during the inauguration of a football stadium in the village Dura Al-Qari' near the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 20, 2015.Credit: AP
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

Poor Jibril Rajoub, the disgraced former Palestinian security chief. He had a brief renaissance with his bid to expel Israel from international football at the FIFA Congress this week. But with Wednesday morning's revelations of arrests of senior FIFA officials and simultaneous U.S. and Swiss investigations into endemic corruption in the global organization's affairs, including allegations of vote-buying in the bid process where Russia and Qatar were awarded the rights to host the next World Cup, no-one is interested in him anymore. With FIFA in disarray, even if the congress takes place on Friday (FIFA insists it will but hold that space) the focus is now solely on president Sepp Blatter's fight for survival. At present, even if the vote on Israel takes place, and in the unlikely event it receives the necessary majority, it will be a badge of honor for Israel to be kicked out of this rancid setup. Rajoub's bid will probably remain little more than a tiny footnote to the earthquake now taking place in world football.

Only last week, Blatter took time out from his reelection campaign to visit the region, shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah, fawning upon Netanyahu, Abbas and Rajoub, promising to organize a peace match between Israeli and Palestinians teams in Switzerland and trying to de-escalate a diplomatic crisis that threatened to overshadow his coronation. Smart money was on a last-minute compromise being found which would delay the vote indefinitely. It doesn't matter now. Blatter has other matters to worry about. Officially at least, for now, he isn't a suspect in the investigations that have fingered his closest allies. That can't last for long and Israel may just turn out to be the last country that the globetrotting FIFA president, also known as the Learjet King, paid an official visit to.

The exquisite timing of the arrests at Hotel Baur au Lac and raid on FIFA headquarters in Zurich is certainly fodder for conspiracy theorists who will see the devious hand of Mossad arranging events behind the scenes. This is ridiculous of course, the FBI has been working on their investigation for three years, and Blatter has a legion of enemies out to get him. (The irony that after trying for decades to make the Americans love "soccer," FIFA is being brought down by an American investigation is delicious). But such a scenario could have not been that far from reality. Last year, in the wake of the fighting in Gaza, as Qatar emerged as Hamas' main patrons, some Israeli officials idly wondered whether it wouldn't be a good idea to target the oil kingdom's scandalous 2022 World Cup in retribution. It never became an operational plan, since any attempt on Qatar's tournament would have put in question Russia's no less fraudulent purchase of the 2018 World Cup, and Israel has been operating for years on a policy of not provoking Vladimir Putin. Now it's happening anyway, and if anyone can do better than Mossad in forensic sabotage, it has to be the accountant of Switzerland's attorney general office.

Not that Israel has much to be proud about after the craven way its elite feted Blatter last week. Nothing mattered except buttering up to the man who, even if he somehow manages to emerge unscathed from the investigations, will forever be tainted by the way he is covering up for the deaths of thousands of laborers from the stifling heat and appalling work conditions in Qatar. Playfair Qatar - an organization dedicated to highlighting the Gulf nation's human rights abuses and its mistreatment of migrant construction workers - has estimated that for every match scheduled to be played in Qatar 2022 (now we can hope it will never take place) at least 62 workers will find their deaths on the tournaments building sites. Israel will remain a member of this discredited, money-laundering, dictator-coddling, slave-driving kleptocracy. Somewhere a hasbarist is already tweeting #BDSfail.

Elsewhere on the margins of social media some jokers have been suggesting a joint Israel-Palestine World Cup with a final in Gaza City, instead of the one almost certainly to be cancelled in Qatar. On second thoughts, maybe that's not such a bad idea, for once FIFA could actually do something for world peace and Qatar can still pay. Instead of financing Hamas, with a fraction of what it's spending on its obscene and cruel tournament, it could actually do something for the people of Gaza.

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