An Israeli-Palestinian field of dreams

MK Shakib Shanan hopes talks over a small piece of turf will enable big strides in normalizing relations.

Beersheba soccer field  (photo credit: Adam Van Hart )
Beersheba soccer field
(photo credit: Adam Van Hart )
Land disputes with Israel's neighbors may take a long time to resolve, but MK Shakib Shanan (Labor) hopes that talks held Thursday with Palestinian Authority officials over a small piece of turf will enable big strides in normalizing relations between Israelis and Palestinians. The land in question is no bigger than a soccer field - and this time, at least, the comparison is not metaphoric. The land in question is, in fact, a soccer field. Shanan visited Ramallah on Thursday afternoon to gauge Palestinian support for a soccer stadium that its sponsors hope will help draw Palestinians and Israelis together on - literally - a level playing field. The project is the brain-child of the Peace Dream Foundation and the Universal Peace Foundation which, Shanan said, have already have found a donor eager to fund the idea. The plan calls for a soccer stadium, which would be used for both international matches and ones between Palestinian and Israeli athletes, to be built on the Green Line as a neutral meeting place. The site for the stadium has yet to be determined, but Shanan, the Labor Party's newest MK, said he had already briefed both Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i - both of whom are also Labor lawmakers - on the details of the plan. Barak and Vilna'i might recognize one of their old adversaries on the other side of planning team. Among the PA officials Shanan met with on Thursday was none other than Fatah strongman Jibril Rajoub, now the head of the Palestinian Football Association. "I was surprised to see Rajoub there in that role," Shanan said, but he emphasized that Rajoub, as well as the PA's Sport Culture and Youth Minister Tahani Abu Daka and Civil Affairs Minister Hussein el-Sheikh were enthusiastic regarding the plan. "It was a very successful meeting and both me and the people who accompanied me were left with a positive impression," Shanan summed up the meeting. He became involved in the project shortly before he was appointed to the Knesset to replace former MK Efraim Sneh on May 28, when he traveled to South Korea to watch a woman's soccer tournament sponsored by the Peace Dream Foundation. In Korea, Shanan said he found large support for continued soccer-for-peace initiatives between Israelis and Palestinians, including from Dr. Chung Mong-Joon, head of the Korean Football Association. In addition, Shanan said that in Korea, he also spoke with Muhammad bin Hammam, the Qatari head of FIFA Asia, who, "told me that he is in favor of using football to promote peace." Shanan said that with plans for a joint Israeli-Palestinian steering committee already underway, he was optimistic that the soccer field of dreams would become reality. "The money exists, the agreement exists, and now all we need to do is work out the technical details," he said.