FIFA Chief: Israel Must Make Concessions to Palestinians to Avert Expulsion Vote

Soccer chief Sepp Blatter set to meet Netanyahu, Abbas next week, says he hopes solution can be found before vote on May 29.

AFP

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said Friday that Israel will have to make a concession to the Palestinians if a vote to expel it from soccer's international governing body is to be averted.

"The onus in this respect is on Israel with its outstanding infrastructure, fully functioning professional league and economic context," Blatter, who stressed that he opposes the vote, wrote in the FIFA magazine, AFP reported

Blatter is set to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Wednesday and President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday, after meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian football association heads in Zurich ended with no results.

In an interview with several reporters, Blatter said Israel should ease the movement of Palestinian soccer players and sports equipment in and out of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Blatter said he is certain Netanyahu is ready to make a concession to the Palestinians.

The FIFA president said the incident is his biggest "challenge," and said he hoped a solution could be found before the proposal to remove Israel is put to a vote on May 29.

On Wednesday, Palestinian Football Association chairman Jibril Rajoub said that the Palestinians are ready to withdraw their proposal to suspend Israel’s membership in FIFA if Israel meets the Palestinian association’s demands.

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.”

Meanwhile, Israel's Foreign Ministry has been waging a worldwide campaign aimed at foiling the Palestinian proposal, including talks with sports ministers and heads of soccer federations in more than 100 countries, supplying incriminating information on Palestinian soccer players who have supposedly been involved in terrorist activity, and attempts to blacken Rajoub's name.