Exclusive: Rajoub warns Palestine will demand Israel's suspension unless basic rights granted

Jibril Rajoub 2By Andrew Warshaw, chief correspondent
February 6 - Palestine football's leading figurehead has warned he will call for Israel's expulsion from FIFA unless it shows greater willingness to ease the plight of his country's players and officials. FIFA recently set up a mediation Task Force and earlier this week Palestinian FA chief Jibril Rajoub met with his Israeli counterpart Avi Luzon and FIFA President Sepp Blatter in Zurich in the latest move to solve the long-term issue of access to and from Palestinian territories.

After the meeting, understood to have also been attended by representatives of UEFA and the Asian Football Confederation, Blatter announced he was pleased with the progress that had been made and that he will once again travel to the region in April in a bid to further improve relations between the two sides.

Blatter ideally wants Israel and Palestine to sign a formal co-operation agreement at or around the FIFA Congress in June but in an interview with Insideworldfootball, Rajoub implied this was some way off.

Rajoub disclosed that during last week's meeting, Luzon said his hands were tied by the Israeli government. "He said he wanted to help but that he couldn't and that the issue had to be discussed with the relevant Israeli authorities. In a way I can sympathise with this position but it was a clear message.

"I welcome Mr Blatter's initiative for ending the suffering of the Palestinian footballers and ending the restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupation. It's not just players. You are talking about instructors, consultants, anyone who wants to come to Palestine. They have to wait for hours to get permits."

Rajoub said that unlike Blatter, he was not encouraged that significant progress had been made and cited a recent AFC-organised club tournament in Palestine when, he claimed, even the AFC's own commissioner, who was from Sri Lanka, was detained for several hours.

"This is the way the Israelis are behaving and I see no sign that they have recharged their mental batteries," said Rajoub. "There is no change on the ground. We are a full FIFA member and have the same rights as all other members."

Palestine has long accused Israel's security forces, who control movement between the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, of frequently preventing its athletes travelling freely between the two separated territories as well as stopping those from visiting countries from entering the West Bank. Israel counters that it acts as it does for security reasons, citing the number of rocket attacks from Gaza which is controlled by Hamas - committed to Israel's destruction.

But Rajoub doesn't buy this.

"I put it on the table in Zurich that either we come in June with a Memorandum of Understanding recognising the right of the Palestinians to enjoy the statutes of FIFA, both when it comes to freedom of movement and hosting events, or I will propose at the Congress that the Israelis do not enjoy those rights either."

"I have a document they sent to FIFA saying that whilst they are ready to develop sport in Palestine, it has to be done through them. This cannot be accepted and we will go to Congress and ask for sanctions against them. Why can't we enjoy the same rights as the Americans, the French and everyone else? Israel has no right to keep behaving as bullies.

"I hope Mr Blatter can convince them to reconsider their position according to the FIFA statutes. The ball is in their court. Otherwise, calling for Israel's suspension from FIFA is the only solution. We have no other choice."

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