By Andrew Warshaw
October 30 – As anticipated, last week’s astonishing decision by FIFA to close down its Middle East mediation initiative has prompted an angry backlash with Palestinian sports officials accusing world football’s governing body of deceit and leaving them in the lurch.
On Friday FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced that after months of negotiations, Israel would not be reprimanded for its conduct, thereby effectively legitimizing the five Israeli leagues clubs based in the Occupied Territories.
Susan Shalabi-Molano, head of international affairs for the Palestinian Football Association, said FIFA’s decision to do nothing about the PFA’s long-standing complaints was “a violation of both Swiss law and international law.”
The United Nations, she pointed out, had informed FIFA that the Israeli clubs were located in occupied Palestinian territories and re-iterated that UN Security Council Resolution 2334, passed in December 2016, ruled that Israeli settlements in the area are illegal according to international law.
To understand the PFA’s outrage over FIFA’s delaying tactics, you have to go back to the time FiIFA’s Middle East monitoring committee, chaired by South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale, was set up by Infantino’s predecessor Sepp Blatter as a compromise in return for Palestine withdrawing its request to throw Israel out of FIFA.
Yet FIFA ultimately ended up rejecting all the options put forward by Sexwale’s body and it was no surprise that Jibril Rajoub (pictured), head of the PFA but who Israeli sympathisers accuse of being a supporter of terrorism, was furious.
Rajoub told reporters on Sunday that FIFA’s leadership had simply bowed to Israeli pressure in refusing to adopt any of three possible actions recommended by Sexwale’s unit which spent more than two years trying to negotiate with the parties.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino called the dispute “exceptionally complex” because of the political situation in the Middle East but Rajoub said Infantino had simply given in to pressure from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The FIFA chief tried to evade and stall,” Rajoub told reporters at his FA’s headquarters. “This is a clear violation, that they (Israel) would organise an official league on land that is not Israeli land. Even the Israeli league does not dare say this is their land.”
Israel’s Minister of Interior Security Gilad Erdan hit back by labelling Rajoub an “instigator of terrorism” who was seeking to use sport as “a political weapon” against the Jewish state.
But the PFA are already taking FIFA to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over last May’s debacle at FIFA’s annual Congress when Infantino unilaterally refused to allow a vote on a Palestinian motion to discuss Sexwale’s long-overdue report whose findings have not been made public.
With Israel a member of UEFA, Rajoub claims European countries forced the hand of Infantino by opposing any intervention by FIFA. “It’s a shame for some European associations to defend and try to protect the Israeli racist and fascist government policies,” he said.
Without identifying the federations concerned, he suggested, in typically provocative style, that it was countries which had been complicit in the crimes of the Holocaust.
“I don’t think Palestinian players should be scapegoats from what some European countries did against the Jews last century,” said Rajoub.
Responding to Infantino’s insistence that FIFA had no choice but to remain neutral in political matters, Rajoub highlighted UEFA’s intervention following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
UEFA prevented Crimean teams from joining the Russian league since the annexation was not recognised by the international community.
Shalabi-Molano, an executive member of the Asian Football Association, made the point that FIFA could not avoid making a political decision.
“Deciding to do something about the settlements is a political decision,” she said. “But there are those who say that not to decide anything and close the subject, just taking note of all these international resolutions… and deciding that they are not binding, is also politicising the issue. So it goes both ways.”
Further fuelling the flames of division, Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan described the FIFA decision as “a great victory.”
“The attempt of the instigator of terrorism Jibril Rajoub to use sports as a political weapon against Israel has failed and we will continue to work to thwart the boycott initiatives of the Palestinians,” Erdan declared.
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