‘Barca visit shows how hard peace process will be’

Israeli officials say PA failure to invite Israelis to FC Barcelona's soccer exhibition in W. Bank, nixing idea for mixed Israel-Palestinian team is not in the spirit of sport, or of trying to get diplomatic process going.

Barcelona striker Lio Messi at the Western Wall 370 (photo credit: Tourism Ministry / Gilad Zamir)
Barcelona striker Lio Messi at the Western Wall 370
(photo credit: Tourism Ministry / Gilad Zamir)
This no way to run a peace train, Israeli government officials suggested Sunday, bewailing the Palestinian Authority’s failure to let Israelis attend the FC Barcelona soccer exhibition in the West Bank town of Dura on Saturday night.
In contrast, the officials said, Israel invited 400 to 500 Palestinians to Bloomfield Stadium in Jaffa on Sunday night to watch the exhibition in Israel.
The officials also said it had been Palestinian Football Association head Jibril Rajoub who nixed the original idea of an exhibition match between Barcelona and a mixed Israeli-Palestinian team.
“Because of the behavior of the Israelis, that targets sport and athletes, our movement is limited,” Rajoub was quoted by Reuters as having said three months ago. “I believe that it’s too early to talk about a joint match because of the discriminatory behavior, even on the playing field, which is being practiced by Israel.”
Not only was this not in the spirit of sport, it was not in the spirit of trying to get the diplomatic process moving, one Israeli official said.
“Despite public proclamations about the desire for peace and reconciliation, the Palestinians refused to entertain the idea of a joint football team, and refused to have Israelis go to the West Bank to watch a match,” the official said. “This just shows the challenges we face now in moving the process forward.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not allude to any of this when he met the storied soccer team at a reception for the club in Jerusalem on Sunday.
Instead, he said he had three hopes: to see good soccer games, to have peace and security, and to have “1 percent of Barcelona’s fan base” visit Israel.
“That would help our economy and would help peace as well,” he quipped.