Jibril Rajoub (left), president of the Palestinian Football Association, Tokyo Sexwale (center), chairman of the FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine and Israel Football Association president Ofer Eini shake hands following a news conference in Jericho in December 2015..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel hopes to thwart a Palestinian bid to oust or suspend its soccer league from the Fédération Internationale de Football Association.
A joint Israeli-Palestinian monitoring committee headed by former South African government minister Tokyo Sexwale is set to meet in Bahrain on Tuesday to determine if the issue should move forward to a meeting of the 67th FIFA Congress, the world soccer organization’s top decision-making body, this Thursday.
At issue are six Israeli soccer clubs based in the West Bank. Since 1998 FIFA has recognized Palestine as one of its 211 national associations.
Four years ago, the Palestinian Football Association began to insist that FIFA bylaws prohibiting one league from using land that belongs to the country of another’s league, be applies to the six Israeli soccer clubs in the West Bank.
The Israel Football Association maintains that the application of the bylaw to the West Bank teams would put FIFA in the position of determining Israel’s borders, which is beyond its purview.
Should FIFA take action against the teams, Israel would have to comply or risk suspension or the elimination of the entire Israeli soccer league from FIFA.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked FIFA President Giovanni Infantino to reject a Palestinian bid. Netanyahu also asked the US to push Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the matter when he visited Washington last week.
Israel believes that US opposition could influence the FIFA Congress.
In response to Netanyahu’s actions, Rajoub told AFP News Agency, “I am sure that Mr. Infantino is not working for Mr. Netanyahu; he was elected by FIFA and he represents the interests of FIFA.”
Should Sexwale decide to move the issue forward, a Wednesday meeting of a FIFA board would then meet to determine whether to put it on the agenda for Thursday’s congress meeting.
Sexwale, who has visited Israel and the Palestinian territories, completed a report in April that offered three solutions to the issue, but appeared to favor eliminating the six Israeli settlement teams.
The first option is to maintain the status quo until such time as a final status agreement is reached between Israelis and Palestinians that would include borders. The report noted that this option does not take into account the international community’s option expressed through UN resolutions, including UNSC 2334, that settlement activity is illegal.
The second option would be to apply the FIFA by-law banning one national association from playing in the territory of another. FIFA would then give the Israel Football Association six months to eliminate its settlement teams. Failure to comply with that demand would move the issue to the FIFA Council, which could then take disciplinary action.
FIFA took a similar stance with regard to the territorial dispute between Russia and Crimea, the report noted. It added that any actions taken should be in line with the Russian-Crimean dispute, so that FIFA could maintain that it was “even-handed” on these matters.
The report warned, however, of possible retaliatory action by Israel against the Palestinian soccer teams, given Israel’s military control of the West Bank and its borders.
The third option would be for the Israeli and Palestinian leagues to resolve the issue between them, the report stated, adding that this would likely not occur given that land dispute was the heart of the conflict. The report did note that the interaction between Israelis and Palestinians on the monitoring team had been very respectful.
Sexwale concluded in his report, however, that he believed FIFA could not avoid making a decision.