By Andrew Warshaw
April 24 – The FIFA committee charged with resolving the increasingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian issue looks set to postpone a final ruling once again by giving Israel six months to discontinue playing matches in the occupied West Bank – or face possible sanctions.
The highly respected Israeli newspaper Haaretz says it has seen a draft of the committee’s report to next month’s FIFA Congress recommending the six-month deadline before any final decision is made about suspending the six Israeli teams in question or even kicking Israel out of FIFA altogether.
The Palestine Football Association has long maintained that the presence of the six Israeli clubs on its territory is in breach of FIFA statutes. Israel counters that this is inapplicable since the Palestinians do not have permanent borders.
Last week Israel reportedly stepped up its diplomatic efforts to foil a Palestinian initiative within FIFA by mandating its overseas embassies to try and gain international support in order to stave off a vote at the Congress in Bahrain. At the same time Israel Football Association chairman Ofer Eini apparently sent a letter to FIFA’s general secretary, Fatma Samoura, asking the Palestinians to remove the issue of the settlement teams from both the FIFA Council meeting, in Manama, Bahrain, on May 9, and the full Congress, which convenes in the same city 24 hours later.
Whether that will work is questionable. Last October, the PFA called on FIFA to either expel the six clubs in settlements, or relocate them to within Israel’s internationally recognised borders.
However FIFA, under pressure from both sides, postponed making a decision. Then last month, Palestinian and Israeli football officials were involved in “heated” last-ditch talks as Tokyo Sexwale, FIFA’s main Middle East negotiator, finally presented his long awaited draft report on the dispute.
Time is now pressing and PFA President Jibril Rajoub is clearly losing patience. Rajoub’s federation is set to deliver a motion to FIFA, a draft of which has been seen by Insideworldfootball, that seeks “to recognise the PFA’s entitlement to all its rights”. According to the proposal, the PFA insists that ever since the monitoring committee was set up in May 2015, “no substantial improvement has been achieved until now despite our efforts and those of … Tokyo Sexwale.”
As a result the motion calls on the FIFA Council “to propose and/or adopt disciplinary measures …against the Israeli Football Association” though tellingly it does not actually call for Israel’s expulsion, interpreted by some as a diplomatic attempt not to scupper delicate ongoing negotiations in the build-up to the Bahrain summit.
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