Palestinian Soccer Chief: We’ll Drop Bid for FIFA Ban if Israel Meets Our Demands

Jibril Rajoub called on Israel to remove from its league teams identified with West Bank settlements and to allow freedom of movement for Palestinian athletes.

Reuters

Palestinian Football Association chairman Jibril Rajoub said on Wednesday that the Palestinians are ready to withdraw their proposal to suspend Israel’s membership in FIFA – soccer’s international governing body – if Israel meets the Palestinian association’s demands.

The proposal to remove Israel from the International Federation of Association Football is due to be put to a vote in about two weeks, on May 29. Rajoub also said that Israel has not responded to Palestinian complaints about the infringement of the rights of Palestinian athletes and the adverse impact on the sport in the Palestinian Authority. “Israel continues to show disregard and to behave aggressively, and all FIFA member countries know the facts,” said Rajoub.

In an interview with Haaretz at his office in Ramallah, Rajoub said, “We are ready to withdraw our proposal to revoke Israel’s membership in FIFA if Israel presents a different position that meets our demands – including freedom of movement for the players and a halt to harassment against them, a halt to displays of racism against the Palestinian teams and athletes, and also removing the five teams identified with the settlements from the league in Israel, and following the FIFA rules of conduct.”

Rajoub contends that Israel’s attempts to portray him as being motivated purely by political reasons, or to paint him as holding extremist positions regarding Israel just goes to show that “Israel does not have the tools to cope with the claims that Palestinians are raising with FIFA against Israel.” He adds, “The Israeli government is the one that is motivated by political considerations. Otherwise, there is no explanation for this continued control and the harassment of Palestinian athletes, including soccer players who play in the various leagues, including the two top leagues.”

Rajoub adds, “Sports can act as a bridge and bring people together when we’re facing each other as equals, but not in a situation of oppression and defiance. Israel wants control of everything – primarily the departure and entry of the players, and makes it extremely difficult for us when we try to bring a player from Gaza to the West Bank or to bring in someone from abroad.”

Rajoub noted that “In 2013, Israel said it was willing to develop sports in general and soccer in particular in the Palestinian Authority areas, but on condition that it would be under full Israeli control, similar to what happens in almost every other field according to the political accords.” He says that in a meeting scheduled to be held in Ramallah on May 20 with FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the Palestinians plan to address all of these issues.

Israel allows five teams from West Bank settlements to operate under the soccer federation, which the Palestinians argue is occupied territory in which the Israeli soccer federation has no authority. The five teams are Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Bik’at Hayarden and Givat Ze’ev.

A few days ago, FIFA president Blatter met in Zurich with Rajoub and Israel soccer federation chairman Ofer Eini, but the meeting did not produce results. Consequently, Blatter decided to come to Israel and the PA next week. He will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to try to find a solution to the crisis.