FIFA Council Removes Draft Resolution on Israeli Settlement Teams From Congress Agenda

Israeli Foreign Ministry stresses issue not fully resolved; Palestinians have been pressuring the international soccer association to take action against Israel over settlement teams

The Ariel Municipal Soccer Club and Maccabi HaSharon Netanya play against each other in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, September 23, 2016.
Amir Cohen, Reuters

The council of FIFA, the international soccer association, decided to remove the draft resolution on soccer teams from Israeli settlements from the agenda of its congress.

Tuesday's decision was reached by the organization's council, which convened in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, ahead of the FIFA Congress set to begin on Wednesday. In an official statement, FIFA said that following a discussion of the matter, the FIFA council decided that it would be too early for the congress to make a decision on the issue at this stage.

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.

A meeting of the committee set up to address the issue of the settlement teams, headed by South African anti-racism activist Tokyo Sexwale, was held in Manama on Tuesday. Israel Football Association chairman Ofer Eini and his Palestinian counterpart Jibril Rajoub also attended the meeting. The sides did not reach an agreement by the end of the meeting, and the issue was passed for discussion in the wide forum of the FIFA council, comprised of representatives from dozens of countries, which decided to remove it from the agenda.

A senior official from Israel's Foreign Ministry noted that despite the FIFA council's decision, the Palestinians could still request during the Congress – on Wednesday and Thursday – that the member states vote to reject the position of the FIFA council and in favor of their proposal against the settlement teams.

The FIFA council decision follows a campaign of heavy pressure exerted by Israel in recent weeks on FIFA president Gianni Infantino and the heads of soccer organizations across the world.

The decision is a blow for Rajoub, who has been working to have the draft resolution put for the FIFA Congress vote for months.

On Sunday, Haaretz reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Infantino over the weekend, asking him to remove the Palestinian demand to impose sanctions against the six settlement teams from the Congress agenda. An Israeli official said that Netanyahu stressed to the FIFA leader during their roughly half-hour chat that sports and politics shouldn't mix. "The Palestinian conflict is long term and FIFA isn't going to solve it," Netanyahu told Infantino.

Netanyahu also argued that Rajoub is pushing FIFA's move against Israel in order to leverage it for political purposes, in anticipation of the day Mahmoud Abbas leaves the Palestinian leadership. "If the decision against the teams from the settlements passes, it will make sports a source of division, instead of a source of conflict resolution. It could ruin FIFA," Netanyahu told Infantino.

Jerusalem was concerned that if the attempt to remove the issue from the FIFA Congress agenda wouldn’t succeed, a vote constituting a "yellow card" for Israel would be brought to a vote. According to a proposal promoted by Sexwale, FIFA institutions would give Israel six months to stop games in the settlements before deciding whether to suspend Israel or any of its teams.