Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli diplomatic officials expressed relief over the weekend following the Palestinian Football Association decision on Friday to withdraw its proposal to kick Israel out of FIFA, viewing it as not only a victory for Israeli soccer but a significant diplomatic triumph.
Israel was concerned that had the measure gone to a vote at the FIFA Congress in Zurich, and even if it did not pass but a large number of countries voted for the move, it could have created momentum for similar measures in other international fora.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement on Friday saying that Israel’s international effort to scuttle the move – an effort that has been going on intensively for weeks and included his own involvement as well as that of National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen – led to the failure of the Palestinian bid.
“The State of Israel is interested in a peace that will ensure security for its citizens, but this will not be achieved through coercion and distorting the truth,” he said. “The only way to achieve peace is to begin negotiations between the sides.”
Netanyahu labeled the Palestinian move a “provocation” that – along with other unilateral steps they are taking in other intentional institutions – “will only push peace further away instead of bringing it closer.”
The prime minster noted that the Palestinian move came at a time when the international community was calling for “confidence-building measures.”
“The Palestinians are once again replying with an attempt to carry out unilateral steps that harm the ability to advance a regional settlement,” he said.
The threat to suspend Israel was lifted on Friday afternoon when a compromise was reached with the Palestinian Football Association following extraordinary scenes at the FIFA Congress held in Zurich.
Moments before the vote was set to begin, PFA President Jibril Rajoub asked to speak at the congress and amend the original proposal that had called to suspend the Israel Football Association.
Rajoub said he decided to drop the bid for suspension due to the many requests he received from the FIFA delegates and instead asked to set up a committee that will monitor the issues in question.
“I am here to play football, rather than to play politics. I want to end suffering,” Rajoub said. “I decided to drop the suspension, but it does not mean that I give up the resistance. A lot of colleagues who I respect and I appreciate explained to me how it is painful for them to hear in this family about the issue of suspension.”
The PFA has 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 it imposes and the country’s soccer association has argued that it has no control over security forces.
Soccer’s world governing body has been trying to settle the matter for two years and FIFA president Sepp Blatter this month traveled to the region and met with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
IFA chairman Ofer Eini on Friday asked to speak after Rajoub and said he backs the amended proposal, which according to Blatter will ensure there will be “a mechanism of monitoring” the Palestinian complaints. The proposal to set up a committee that will monitor the movement of Palestinian players and goods and try to find a solution regarding the five Israeli clubs located in the West Bank was approved by a vast majority (165 to 18). The Palestinians would have needed to muster 157 votes to get Israel suspended from the organization.
“I don’t want to point any fingers at the Palestinian side. Let’s leave it to the politicians to do politics. Let’s join forces. I want us to work together, I want us to cooperate,” said Eini. “The differences – if we have any – we should be able to resolve by listening to each other. Everyone is sitting here as friends. There are always disputes.
“I hope that our cooperation will be the beginning of a process that maybe will lead to peace between our peoples,” Eini continued. “I think all problems can be resolved. I believe and hope that with the help of the president of FIFA we can make football a bridge for peace.”
Eini called on Rajoub to join him on stage for a handshake, a request initially declined, with the two men only ultimately shaking hands next to the Palestinian delegation’s desk after the proposal had been approved.
After the meeting, Eini issued a statement saying the victory at FIFA came after intensive work by the IFA, the Foreign Ministry and Netanyahu.
“This is a happy day for all who love football and believe that peace is possible,” he said. “I shook Rajoub’s hand out of a sincere belief that it is possible to do things differently.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely issued a statement applauding the results, saying Israel will use all its resources in the future as well to prevent the delegitimization of Israel.
“We will not let these groups influence the decision of international organizations,” she said.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>