In Win for Israel, FIFA Kills Vote on Palestinian Bid to Sanction Settlement Soccer Teams

Vote not taken off agenda, but only delayed until March 2018 ■ Palestinians have been pressuring FIFA to take action against Israel

Israeli soldiers play soccer next to a tank at the Kissufim Crossing, on the border with the Gaza Strip, Thursday, June 19, 2008
AP

FIFA's congress voted Thursday to accept Gianni Infantino's proposal and decided not to hold a vote on a Palestinian proposal against Israeli soccer teams based in the West Bank.

The decision stipulates that the issue of settlement teams will not be taken entirely off FIFA's agenda, but rather that the FIFA committee for Israeli-Palestinian affairs, headed by Tokyo Sexwale, will have a nine-month extension until March 2018 to continue trying to find an agreeable solution to the problem.

President Infantino's proposal passed by a 138-50 margin at the international soccer organization's congress meeting, which was held in Manama, the Bahraini capital.

President of the Israeli Football Association (IFA), Ofer Eini listens to inagurational speech at the 67th FIFA Congress in Manama, Bahrain May 11, 2017
HAMAD I MOHAMMED/REUTERS

Ofer Eini, the chairman of the Israel Football Association, said after the vote that months of intense work had succeeded in frustrating the Palestinian effort to humiliate Israel at FIFA.

"We have good and loyal friends in FIFA," Eini said. "I don't have enough words to thank them for firmly standing by our side and about the decision to vote for removing the Palestinian proposal from the agenda."

He added: "We succeeded once again in making it clear that mixing politics and sports is liable to be disastrous, and therefore FIF should avoid it. Soccer will be played in Israel everywhere, and I am sure it will be the same in the Palestinian Authority. The red card that FIFA should give is only to anyone who seeks to halt soccer because of political aspirations."

Calling the FIFA decision "an important accomplishment," for Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "We won another victory today in the battle for Israel's international standing. We foiled an attempt to hurt Israel standing in FIFA."

After the vote, Regev, who helped spearhead efforts to thwart the Palestinian move, said she was happy that FIFA made a brave decision and kicked politics out of the soccer pitch. "We won the battle, but we will prepare for the coming fight," said Regev. Referring to Jabril Rajoub, the chairman of the Palestinian Football Association, she added, "We will continue taking action to torpedo any additional attempt by Rajoub to attack Israeli soccer."

Before the vote, Sexwale gave a briefing to Congress delegates and asserted that the committee he headed had not finished its concluding report on the issue of settlement teams, and that it needed more time.

Infantino called Rajoub, followed by Eini, to the podium. Rajoub bitterly attacked Israel in his speech, blaming it of putting limitations on Palestinian soccer players. He also accused Israel of committing war crimes and called on football association members of FIFA to accept the proposal against Israeli soccer clubs operating in the settlements.

Eini dismissed Rajoub's speech, asserting that the Palestinian bid was entirely political, forcing FIFA to deal with border and territory issues rather than soccer. Eini said soccer has no business dealing in political issues and called on the delegates not to vote on Rajoub's proposal. Immediately thereafter, Infantino submitted his proposal, by which there would be a vote on the very question of whether to debate and vote on Rajoub's proposal to the representatives of the 209 associations participating in the Congress.

The 50 votes against Infantino's resolution came almost exclusively from the Arab and Muslim world, opposing it.

The Palestine Football Association expressed disappointment at the decision, which it said shows that FIFA has allowed "political pressures" to win out over FIFA's own statutes. Calling the FIFA decision illegal, the Palestinian soccer organization said it leaves "legal ambiguity," but added that "the Palestine issue" remains on the table at FIFA.

There is "no room for doubt about the illegality of the settlement clubs," the association said. The group vowed to take its case to the Court of Arbitration in Sport based in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The Palestinians have been pressuring FIFA and its member states since 2015 to take action against Israel over the settlement teams. The Palestinian say these teams violate Article 72.2 of the FIFA Statutes, which says, “Member associations and their clubs may not play on the territory of another member association without the latter’s approval.” They therefore demand that Israel shut the settlement teams down, and if not, they say, Israel should be suspended from FIFA.

The six teams in question are located in Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Givat Ze’ev, Oranit and the Jordan Valley. All play in low-level leagues.