The head of the Palestinian Football Association has threatened that if FIFA, the governing body of international soccer, doesn’t decide to suspend six Israeli teams from West Bank settlements, he’ll petition the Court of Arbitration for Sport for a ruling on the issue.
FIFA’s president has been trying to broker a solution to the issue through agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But such a petition would make this effort impossible.
Jibril Rajoub, who heads the Palestinian association, told a press conference that allowing the settlement teams to play is a gross violation of both FIFA’s bylaws and those of the Union of European Football Associations, of which Israel is a member.
“Israel receives quite a few benefits from FIFA, and some of those benefits also reach the settlements teams, which is unacceptable,” Rajoub said. “Our message to FIFA is clear. The time has come to decide this issue and bring an end to Palestinian suffering, and thereby grant freedom of action to Palestinian sport and football, on one hand, and stop giving legitimacy to clubs active in the settlements, on the other.”
FIFA’s bylaws state that one country can’t allow a team located on the territory of another country to play in its league unless the other country agrees. The Palestinians say the six settlement teams violate this rule. The teams in question are in Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Givat Ze’ev, the Jordan Valley and Oranit.
A senior Israeli official familiar with the issue, who asked to remain anonymous, said Rajoub gave his ultimatum due to the fact that following diplomatic outreach by Israel to FIFA, the latter’s governing council isn’t expected to vote on the issue of the settlement teams at its upcoming meeting this Thursday and Friday, but merely to discuss the issue. Rajoub, who has been running an aggressive campaign on this issue in recent weeks, is seeking an immediate decision to suspend the teams.
“Until a week and a half ago, we were very worried about what was likely to happen at the FIFA Council meeting,” the official said. “Now, we’re more relaxed, and believe that nothing dramatic will happen tomorrow aside from a discussion of the issue. The big battle over the issue of the settlement teams will effectively be postponed until the FIFA Congress, which will take place in Bahrain in May 2017.”
The Israeli official said FIFA President Gianni Infantino has told Israel he won’t allow a one-sided decision on the issue of the settlement teams, but will try to broker a compromise that will be acceptable to both Israel and the Palestinians. Infantino is slated to visit Israel in November, the official added, and during his trip, he will meet with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev. Tokyo Sexwale, the head of the FIFA committee trying to resolve the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, is expected to visit even before then.
Infantino’s efforts to broker a compromise have also been complicated by a letter sent to FIFA last week by Wilfried Lemke, the UN secretary general’s special advisor on sport. The letter, first reported by the British paper The Guardian, gives the UN’s view on the settlement teams.
Lemke’s letter said the UN Security Council has deemed the settlements a violation of international law. The settlements have no legal status, the letter continued, and therefore, their soccer teams also have no legal status and don’t meet the criteria set in FIFA’s bylaws.
Lemke concurred that the issue should be resolved through negotiations, but stressed that the solution must accord with UN resolutions and FIFA’s bylaws.
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