FIFA President Sepp Blatter (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: REUTERS,KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to call on FIFA President Sepp Blatter to use his influence to persuade the Palestinian Football Association to drop its bid to suspend Israel from world soccer's governing body when the two meet in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Blatter is traveling to the region in the hope of finding a diplomatic solution that will convince the Palestinians to withdraw their proposal for the suspension of Israel, which is on the agenda in FIFA's annual Congress in Zurich on May 29.
While Israel is taking the bid seriously, and over the last few weeks have lobbied many of the 209 countries of FIFA against the proposal, the chances that it will pass seem slim, since a 75 percent majority – or 157 countries – would have to vote in support of the move.
Israel's arguments in recent weeks against the step have been three-fold.
First, such a move badly politicizes sport, and the Palestinians are using this to try and push forward their political agenda.
Secondly, that restrictions on some Palestinian football players is because they are involved in terrorist organizations. And, thirdly, that the driving force behind the move – PFA head Jibril Rajoub – is using this to forward his own political agenda and position himself as a successor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel Football Association chairman Ofer Eini and CEO Rotem Kemer will participate Netanyahu's meeting with Blatter. They went to Zurich last week to discuss the matter with FIFA chiefs at the organization's headquarters.
Blatter is set to meet on Wednesday Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud and Rajoub .
Eini and Rajoub met in Zurich last Sunday after which FIFA released a statement saying that the sides "agreed to pursue the dialogue." However, Rajoub nevertheless insisted he would not drop the proposal the way he did before last year's Congress in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The Palestinians claim that Israel has continued to hamper their soccer activities, imposing restrictions on the movement of their athletes between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
The PFA has also cited curbs Israel places on the import into Palestinian territories of sports equipment and on visits by foreign teams and individuals.
Israel cites security concerns for the restrictions it imposes and the Israeli FA has argued that it has no control over security forces.
Two years ago, FIFA established a task force which included President Blatter, the Israeli and Palestinian soccer chiefs and the heads of the European and Asian soccer confederations to examine the Palestinian complaints and to try and resolve them.
However, in recent weeks Rajoub reiterated his claim that Israel was "persecuting Palestinian footballers, athletes and the movement of sporting equipment." A suspension would mean that Israel, which is affiliated to UEFA, could no longer compete in the Euro 2016 qualifiers and its clubs would be barred from European competition.
Blatter said he is worried that a dangerous precedent will be set if the Palestinians go ahead with their proposal.
Blatter, who is standing for re-election at the Congress, said the dispute was "the biggest challenge" facing him as he comes to the end of his current mandate, and added that Israel had not broken any FIFA statutes.
Blatter said that if the Palestinian proposal was approved, other nations could use soccer to air political grievances.
"This could open the doors, where would we go? We want to be in sport and not in politics, we could set a very dangerous precedent," he told reporters at FIFA headquarters last week.
"I'm hopeful and positive that, at the end of the day, there might be a solution before the Congress. I want to try to find a solution to avoid us going to a vote in a FIFA Congress and speak about the dismissal or suspension of a federation, this is not the sporting spirit.
"I wouldn't like to go into a vote to say that one association shall be suspended, if there is nothing against the statutes of FIFA and we have to make clear there is nothing (by Israel) against the statutes of FIFA," he added.Reuters contributed to this report