The United Nations reminded FIFA on Wednesday that settler soccer teams are illegal and urged the organization to resolve the existing dispute on the matter between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
“The United Nations Security Council has determined that Israeli settlements in occupied territory have no legal validity, as they are in breach of international law, and that such practices are an obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East,” wrote Wilfried Lemke, the special adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Sports for Development and Peace.
He posted a statement on the matter in advance of a meeting by the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Council on Thursday and Friday in Zurich, Switzerland.
On the Council’s agenda is a report by the newly created Monitoring Committee for Israel-Palestine, which is tasked with overseeing issues affecting the development of soccer in the Palestinian territories including the settlement clubs.
“The UN recognizes sport as a fundamental human right and, as such, it advocates and facilitates the realization of such a right by everyone. Without undermining the right of Israeli and Palestinian people to sport, all teams playing in recognized FIFA competitions should abide by the laws of the game,” Lemke continued.
“I therefore urge a resolution of any disputes in line with the United Nations Security Council Resolutions and FIFA Statutes within a reasonable timeframe. I further call for the free movement of athletes, coaches and officials in, between, and around Israel and Palestine, to enable them to freely exercise sport and partake in sporting events.”
Earlier this week the Palestinian Football Association called on FIFA to ban or relocate the six clubs located in the West Bank.
“The PFA calls upon the FIFA Council to take the necessary steps to respect and enforce Article 72 (2) of the FIFA 2016 Stat-utes without further delay,” a PFA press release from earlier this week stated.
Article 72 (2) states that “member associations and their clubs may not play on the territory of another member association without the latter’s approval.”
The PFA is arguing that the West Bank settlement clubs are in clear violation of Article 72 because the UN has said that the West Bank is “a part of the occupied Palestinian state.”
Susan Shalabi, a Palestinian member of the FIFA Monitoring Committee and PFA, told The Jerusalem Post, that the PFA expects FIFA to implement its bylaws.
“There are laws that must be implemented. They were implemented regarding Russian teams playing on Ukrainian territory. So we expect the law will be implemented here as well,” Shalabi said.
FIFA decided that clubs in Crimea could not play in the Russian soccer league after Russia occupied Crimea in 2014.
If FIFA decides to ban the settlement clubs, the decision would be binding until the next meeting of the FIFA Congress in May, which would have to make a final decision.
Shalabi added that the PFA does not want to suspend the Israel Football Association from FIFA.
“We do not want to suspend the IFA from FIFA and we do not like to see players deprived from playing soccer, but as I said, the law must be implemented,” Shalabi remarked, adding that there are few disputes between the PFA and IFA beyond the issue of settlement clubs.
Israel Football Association spokesman Shlomi Barzel said that he did not believe any action would happen prior to an anticipated visit to Israel and the West Bank of newly elected FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
The Palestinians’ tactic here, he said, is akin to what is happening with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
They want people to boycott soccer, the same way they are boycotting wine and products produced in the settlements, Barzel said.
“They are trying to mix politics and sports,” he said.
Legal expert Eugene Kontorovich challenged the PFA’s interpretation of Article 72 of the FIFA statutes, saying that it would only be applicable if the borders of a Palestinian state are defined.
He noted that there are instances, such as with North and South Korea, where competing territorial claims have not been a barrier to the participation of the countries teams in FIFA.
PFA Chairman Jabril Rajoub said the PFA would turn to the international Court of Arbitration for Sport should the FIFA fail to ban the settlement teams from internationally recognized soccer.
“In the case that FIFA does not make a clear decision to end the suffering of Palestinian sports, namely the organization of matches in settlements, we will resort to the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” Rajoub said on Wednesday during a press conference in Ramallah.
“That is our natural right and we won’t raise a white flag,” he emphasized.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport is an international body responsible for solving sports-related legal disputes, but typically it takes cases only with the agreement of both parties.
Pressure on FIFA to address the issue of settlement clubs has increased in recent weeks with the publication of a Human Rights Watch report, which said Israel “is sponsoring soccer matches on seized land.”
Following the publication of the report, Sara Bashi, Israel and Palestine country director at Human Rights Watch, said, “FIFA has new leadership and has made new commitments to human rights this year. FIFA should step up now to give settlement clubs a red card and insist the Israel Football Association play by the rules.”
According to Human Rights Watch two of the Israeli clubs play in the West Bank settlement of Ariel. The other four play in the settlements of Givat Ze’ev, Oranit, Ma’aleh Adumim and Tomer.
Infantino told AFP late last week that the issue of the settlement clubs is a top priority.
“This is one of my priorities and our priorities.”
The council meeting Thursday and Friday in Zurich is not the first time that the issue of the settlement teams has been raised at FIFA. In 2015 it failed to sway the members of the 65th FIFA Congress to suspend Israel over the settlement issue. The debate, however, did lead to the creation of the Monitoring Committee.
A FIFA delegation led by the Monitoring Committee Chairman, former South African government minister Tokyo Sexwale, visited Israel and the Palestinian territories over the summer.