Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with the head of the Palestinian Football Association late Thursday and praised Argentina and the Argentine Football Association after the country's national team canceled a scheduled match against Israel in Jerusalem ahead of the World Cup.
Though Israel blamed death threats against star Lionel Messi as the reason for the game's cancelation, officials in Argentina hinted it was political pressure exerted by Palestinians, who took issue with the game being relocated from Haifa to Jerusalem and being billed as part of Israel's 70th Independence Day celebrations.
"We welcome the Argentine national soccer team's decisions and the Palestinian Football Association's efforts to make things right and not allow Israel to trample the international community's decisions, especially in regards to occupied Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine," Abbas said.
Giving special thanks to Jibril Rajoub, who led the efforts against the Argentina-Israel game and lobbied Argentine soccer officials, Abbas added that "any step that harms Jerusalem's status as the Palestinian capital is unacceptable for us and therefor I wish to reiterate my thanks to the Argentine Football Association."
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Rajoub thanked the Palestinian leader and said he was only acting on his orders. Rajoub also said that he always makes sure to keep politics and sports separate, but felt he was forced to act in this case because Israel turned the game political.
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Argentina’s foreign minister said Thursday that the friendly match between his country’s soccer team and Israel was supposed to take place in Haifa, and that the game’s cancellation was due in part to its transfer to Jerusalem.
Minister Jorge Faurie’s remarks contradict those of Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev, who said Wednesday that the move of the game to Jerusalem “was born because of Messi’s desire to visit Jerusalem.”
According to Faurie, “The game was supposed to take place in Haifa. The noise around the game was created because of the transfer to Jerusalem, and also because of its proximity to the transfer of the U.S. embassy in Israel to the city.”
He added that the threats to the team’s players, headed by Messi, came in the wake of the moving of the game to Jerusalem. “One can understand the concern of the players, some of whom have families,” said Faurie, who stressed that Argentina has no problem with Israel. “The team played there more than once.” argentina
Regev rejected the claims that her demand to hold the game at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, rather than in Haifa, led to the cancellation of the game. “There is no greater lie than that,” said the Minister of Culture and Sport.
“The Argentinians never objected to the game in Jerusalem. [The move] was born because of Messi’s desire to visit Jerusalem, kiss the Western Wall and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The real story is not Haifa or Jerusalem but the threats to Messi’s life.”
On Wednesday, Haaretz reported that the Argentine national team would have played the game in Israel had it been held in Haifa, as had been arranged in the first place. The team, headed by coach Jorge Sampaoli, did not want to go from Barcelona to Israel, on their way to the World Cup in Russia, but when the game in Israel was decided on due to economic considerations, their preference was for Haifa.