By Andrew Warshaw
September 12 – More than 60 European lawmakers have demanded that five clubs based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank be thrown out of the Israeli domestic league by FIFA or moved inside Israel’s internationally accepted borders.
The MEPs claim the clubs involved – from the West Bank Israeli settlements of Maale Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Givat Zeev and Bikat Hayarden (Jordan Valley) – are in breach of FIFA rules by playing in the Israeli league when the area falls under the Palestinian Football Association.
Both Israel and Palestine have their own national federations and FIFA regulations state that clubs from one member association cannot play on the territory of another member’s association without the latter’s consent. The MEPs cited UEFA’s 2014 decision to ban Crimean clubs from taking part in Russian competitions as a precedent for barring the Israeli settlement teams.
An open letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino signed by 66 members of the European Parliament urges FIFA to “rule that settlement clubs either fully relocate within Israel’s internationally-recognised borders or are excluded from the Israeli Football Association”.
“We want to see football thrive in both Israel and Palestine. To that end, FIFA must not let football be an instrument of territorial expansion,” the letter continues urging that a decision be taken at the first full meeting of the new FIFA Council next month.
Hugh Lovatt, the Israel/Palestine project coordinator for the European Council on Foreign Relations, says the initiative “sends a strong message that FIFA will not be complicit in illegal Israeli settlement activities nor allow Israel to use football as a political tool for entrenching its hold over Palestinian territory”.
The appeal to FIFA was led by Alyn Smith of the Scottish National Party, a member of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, who while calling on FIFA to “respect its own rules”, stressed there was no request to ban Israel.
“I am not asking FIFA to suspend Israel, we just want it to apply the rules,” he said. “Both Israelis and Palestinians have the right to play football… Allowing Israel to use football as an instrument of territorial expansion in the West Bank politicises football.”
The letter seems likely to be submitted to the monitoring body set up by FIFA to try to resolve ongoing disputes between Israeli and Palestinian officials over freedom of movement.
The committee, led by South African businessman and former political prisoner Tokyo Sexwale, was established following a heated exchange at the FIFA Congress in May 2015, when the PFA at the last minute reluctantly dropped its proposal for a ban of Israel. The PFA has long complained that its officials and players are being hampered from moving between the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Football Association counters that it has no control over such matters, which fall under the jurisdiction of Israel’s security authorities.
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