FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The head of world soccer’s governing body said on Wednesday Israel had proposed easing travel restrictions for Palestinian players but the head of the Palestinian FA insisted he would pursue a move to have Israel suspended from FIFA.
After meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and soccer officials in the West Bank, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said Israel had set out a series of measures to ease travel curbs for players, sports visitors and officials.
Similar commitments have been made in the past, but Blatter said this time Israeli officials had “said they will do it”, a commitment he hopes will stave off the threat of a suspension vote at a FIFA congress in Zurich on May 29.
“I am an optimist,” Blatter said as he sat alongside PFA Chairman Jibril Rajoub, who has mounted a determined campaign to have Israel sanctioned, a move that could have profound ramifications beyond the world of sport.
“We want to bring a solution for now and a solution for the future in order that we don’t need to go to a vote in the congress,” Blatter said. “I am on a peace mission.”
The PFA has long accused Israel of hampering its activities and restricting the movement of players between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israel cites security concerns for the restrictions, an issue that Israel’s FA says is out of its hands.
Blatter met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday in an effort to secure concessions that would persuade the PFA to drop its proposal.
Rajoub said that the Palestinian demand was related only to sports issues and not political matters. He added that Palestinian sports have suffered from racism over the past years.
“The PFA will keep the demand on the agenda of FIFA and there will be no compromise on the rights of Palestinian athletes,” Rajoub said.
Rajoub added that he does not welcome the Israeli proposal to hold a football match between Israelis and Palestinians under the motto of peace.
Blatter, for his part, said that the suspension of the membership of any FIFA member would be an “historic and dangerous precedent.” He said that the Palestinian effort to suspend Israel’s membership has drawn many reactions. “This shows that football is an important organization and unifies all,” he added.
He said Israel had proposed giving Palestinian soccer players special identity cards and placing special sports liaison officials at crossings between Palestinian areas and those under Israeli control to ease movement.
A special escort service between Gaza and the West Bank would allow players to cross between the two territories that are separated by Israeli territory.