Israel Offers Concessions in Bid to Avert Vote to Oust It From FIFA

Despite four-point proposal addressing most of Palestinians' soccer-related grievances, Israeli delegation to FIFA congress in Switzerland say Friday's vote appears inevitable.

AFP

Israeli officials met with International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) officials until late Thursday night in an effort to draft a compromise proposal that would prevent the association’s Friday vote on the Palestinian proposal to ban Israel from FIFA. The proposal consists of concessions Israel is offering the Palestinians in soccer-related issues.

An Israeli official at the FIFA Congress said Friday that Palestinians continue to push for a vote on Israel's suspension, but talks on a potential compromise continue.

A source in the Israeli delegation said that Jibril Rajoub, chairman of the Palestinian Football Association, demanded on Wednesday that the United Nations rule on the status of five Israeli soccer teams based in the West Bank as a condition for withdrawing the Palestinian proposal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday told reporters that if Israel is suspended from FIFA following the vote, it would destroy the association. “It would be a blatant politicization of sport and the result will be FIFA’s collapse,” Netanyahu said.

“The Athenian Assembly thousands of years ago collapsed when they started ousting people. They cancelled its universality. The same will happen with FIFA. We’ll fight against it.”

According to the source, Israel offered a four-point proposal that addressed most of the Palestinians’ grievances.

1. Palestinian players and coaches will receive special documents to facilitate their travel from Gaza to the West Bank and abroad.

2. Israel will ease restrictions and promote soccer-related projects in the West Bank, including the construction of a stadium and other facilities.

3. Israel would cover the costs of tax and customs for sports equipment imported by the Palestinians to the West Bank via 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 and any problems that arise.

The source said FIFA president Sepp Blatter welcomed Israel’s proposal but stressed it would need Rajoub’s consent before removing the vote on banning Israel from FIFA’s slate.

The source said Rajoub acceded, but added another demand – that FIFA ask UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon to issue a decision within three months on whether the five Israeli teams based in West Bank settlements were within Israeli territory.

FIFA regulations stipulate that teams not located within Israeli territory require the Palestinians’ consent to participate in Israeli leagues. Since 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 five teams are Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Bik’at Hayarden and Givat Ze’ev.

The source said that Blatter was leaning toward accepting Rajoub’s demand, due to his desire to avert the vote to ban Israel from FIFA.

Members of the Israeli delegation to the FIFA congress said it was not clear whether the vote to ban Israel would take place or whether Blatter would persuade Rajoub to back down and accept Israel’s compromise.

They said that if the vote was held, it would be difficult to predict its results since the vote is secret. Despite the promises the Israeli delegation received from several states and despite FIFA’s public position against the Palestinian move, the tension in the delegation was still high, they said.

“Out of 209 FIFA member states, 211 told us they’re with us,” a member of the Israeli delegation said.

“It’s hard to know who will really vote for us and who is lying to us,” he said.

Israel Football (soccer) Association President Ofer Eini, who is in Zurich with the Israeli delegation, said Rajoub’s demand was purely political and had nothing to do with sports.

Eini told Blatter he objected to discussing the teams in the West Bank, even if it means FIFA will vote on Israel’s suspension.