FIFA Panel to Improve Israeli-Palestinian Soccer Ties Meets for First Time

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Palestinian children protest unfair football restrictions. May 29, 2015.Credit: Reuters

A FIFA panel aiming to improve Israeli-Palestinian soccer relations met for the first time Wednesday and agreed a follow-up session in the Middle East next month.

Panel chairman Tokyo Sexwale, a South African businessman, hosted the two soccer federations' leaders, FIFA said in a statement.

Sexwale, who some football officials want to be a FIFA presidential candidate, was appointed in May after Palestinians dropped a request for the FIFA Congress to vote on suspending Israel.

"I'm feeling confident after seeing the team spirit today, as both associations have confirmed their intention to promote dialogue," Sexwale said in a statement. "As we have witnessed in my home country South Africa, I'm convinced that here too we'll bring people together through the power of sport."

The latest FIFA efforts revive a process which began in 2013 and stalled this year.

Palestinians have long claimed that Israeli security restrictions limit movement of their players, visiting teams and soccer equipment. Israeli football officials have said that political decisions are beyond their control.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter visited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to press the issue in May, in his final overseas trip before winning re-election.

On Wednesday, FIFA published a photograph of Blatter and Sexwale shaking hands with the two football federation presidents.

"I'm very happy to start the process towards finding solutions," Palestinian football leader Jibril Rajoub said in the FIFA statement.

Israeli federation president Ofer Eini said that "both Mr. Rajoub and I want fair conditions for our footballers."

FIFA said the panel planned to meet in the Middle East region in September.

Those talks are planned to include two representatives of the FIFA congress, nominated from the CONCACAF, CONMEBOL or Oceania regions.

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