New political territory: Saudi Arabia to play World Cup qualifier in Palestine

By Andrew Warshaw

October 4 – New ground is being broken in the world of Middle East footballing geo-politics with Saudi Arabia agreeing to play Palestine in the occupied territories in a World Cup qualifier on October 15.

The landmark fixture is due to take place in the West Bank city of Ramallah and would mark a significant shift for the Saudis who have always previously played away games against Palestine on neutral ground.

Saudi Arabia does not officially recognise Israel which has to approve entry permits for matches in the West Bank. But the change in policy is aimed at ensuring the Palestinians are “not deprived the chance to play at home and among its fans like other countries,” the Saudi Sports Authority said on Twitter.

In recent years, other Arab countries including Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have all agreed to play Palestine in the occupied territories.

Palestinian football association Jibril Rajoub chief described the move as “historic” while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also expressed his support.

“The match is important in being the first of its kind, in which Palestine hosts the Saudi team on its own territory. This has political and moral significance,” Omar Al Jafari, PFA spokesperson told The Media Line, a non-profit American news agency covering the Middle East.

Last month, Israel refused to let players from Gaza-based team Khadamat Rafah Club travel a few kilometres to play Nablus’s FC Balata in a Palestine Cup final rematch that was due to take place in the occupied West Bank.

The winner would have represented Palestine in the Asian Champions League but Israel denied travel permits for 23 of the 35 members of the Gaza team.

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