Palestinians stare down Israel as FIFA suspension vote looms

20 May, 2015 1:15 pm

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK – On top of land, settlements, resources and borders, Israel and the Palestinians can add another dispute to their long history of conflict — football.

In 10 days’ time, at the request of the Palestine Football Association, FIFA will hold a vote among its 209 members at a Congress in Zurich on whether Israel should be suspended from the world football body for violating rules relating to racism, the free movement of players and where clubs are based.

If Israel were to be suspended, its clubs and teams would not be able to take part in international competitions such as the Champions League and the Euro 2016 competition.

While Palestinian officials emphasise that there is nothing political about their move, it raises parallels with FIFA’s suspension of apartheid South Africa in the 1960s and Slobodan Milosevic’s Yugoslavia in the 1990s, making it a highly emotive issue with ramifications that go far beyond sports.

The Palestinians have raised three major complaints: that Palestinian players and officials are routinely restricted in their movement, making it difficult to play matches; that five clubs play in the Israeli league that are located in settlements in the Palestinian territories; and that the Israeli Football Association (IFA) is turning a blind eye to racism.

The complaints are long-standing, with the PFA having put them on the agenda at FIFA meetings in both 2013 and 2014. In the past, last-minute compromises have been found to prevent the Palestinians pushing the issue as far as a vote.

But this time the Palestinians are determined to go all the way, saying Israel has been hoodwinking FIFA for the past three years and has done nothing to change its behaviour. Israel’s federation says it has been doing everything it can to help.

“We will never, ever accept any compromise, any agreement or deal outside the Congress,” Jibril Rajoub, a former politician who has headed the PFA since 2008, said on Tuesday.

“(The Israelis) think they can keep leading the world by the nose because of the Holocaust,” he said, emphasising the point twice. “They are the bully of the neighbourhood.” – Reuters

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