By Andrew Warshaw
March 1 – Asian football’s governing body has urged FIFA to urgently resolve the festering dispute in the Middle East amid speculation that a call for Israel to be thrown out of world football will be revived in May.
Following January’s FIFA Council meeting, Gianni Infantino said that “within one month” he expected a final report to be presented by FIFA’s chief Middle East mediator Tokyo Sexwale who would meet first with representatives from both sides.
But there is no indication that Sexwale has delivered on Infantino’s pledge, much to the irritation of Asia’s footballing hierarchy.
Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa says that a deadline for a solution has been repeatedly put off and that Palestinians merely want to see “football played on their land”.
The dispute centres on six Israeli lower-league clubs playing official games on settlements in the occupied West Bank. The Palestine Football Association (PFA) insists this is contrary to FIFA’s own statutes which state that a member country’s teams cannot play matches on the territory of another association without permission. According to FIFA, a member association can be expelled over unpaid fees, if it has lost its domestic status or, crucially, if it “seriously violates the statutes, regulations or decisions of FIFA.”
The PFA has also complained about the movement of players and officials between the West Bank and Gaza being hampered. Israel has cited security concerns while the Israeli FA, which is a member of UEFA and not the AFC, has its hands tied by the policy of its government.
The AFC said in a statement that its executive committee had “backed a recommendation to insist FIFA seek an urgent resolution to the ongoing Palestine issues with Israel”.
It called on FIFA to apply “the relevant FIFA statutes as soon as possible”.
“Palestine is a Member Association of the AFC and all they want is to see football played on their land,” said Sheikh Salman.
“We would like to see a definite deadline set, as in the past the deadline has been extended again and again. We all feel strongly that this issue should be resolved.”
The PFA called on the FIFA membership two years ago to suspend Israel but was persuaded to drop the motion at the last minute when a compromise was reached with the creation of a monitoring committee.
But with hardly any progress made, PFA president Jibril Rajoub is now understood to have lost patience and is considering making a similar demand to expel Israel at the FIFA Congress in Bahrain.
But Simon Johnson, British-based chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), says FIFA should not give in to political pressure.
“The FIFA Monitoring Committee and eventually the FIFA Council is being lobbied for territorial and political ends by the Palestinians,” he was quoted as saying. “They are trying to draw political borders through football and this is a very dangerous road for FIFA to go down.
“It is not the job of FIFA to determine territorial boundaries. The Israeli FA has strong legal arguments available to it to counter any threat of punitive action arising from the work of the Monitoring Committee. This is a complex matter and the sensible, consultative approach that the FIFA Monitoring Committee is taking should not be derailed at the end by political lobbying by those who are seeking to penalise Israel politically through sporting means.”
Earlier this year, an Israeli-based media watchdog sent a detailed and highly damning file on Rajoub to FIFA. The aggressively-worded, 21-page dossier, seen by Insideworldfootball was drawn up by Palestinian Media Watch, a non-governmental organisation that documents cases of alleged incitement in Palestinian media.
It claimed Rajoub “promotes hatred, glorifies terror, and incites murder; prohibits the use of sports as a vehicle for peacebuilding; violates the fundamental principles of FIFA” and “is trying to use FIFA to achieve his anti-Israel agenda.”
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