Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday met with FIFA President Sepp Blatter, praising the soccer chief for opposing a Palestinian attempt to have Israel banned from the international sports organization.
The Palestinians, who have been a member of FIFA since 1998, want the world soccer federation to bar Israel from international competition over restrictions it places on the movement of Palestinian players.
The PA also opposes the participation in the Israeli league of five clubs located in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
“Sport is a vehicle of goodwill among nations,” Netanyahu told Blatter. “The thing that could destroy the Football Association is politicizing it. You politicize it once with Israel, then you politicize it for everyone, and it will cause the deterioration of a great institution.”
He said the two were to discuss moves to ease tensions, and when Blatter proposed a friendly match between Israeli and Palestinian national teams within the year, Netanyahu agreed to the idea.
“Football is nowadays such a strong, strong organization that we should go into a peace situation and not into a fighting situation, and football shall connect people and not divide people,” Blatter said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Israel Football Association chief Rotem Kamer called the Palestinian attempt to oust Israel from FIFA “cynical” and counter to the spirit of sport.
Blatter has said the Palestinian bid to expel Israel is his “challenge number one” ahead of the May 29 FIFA Congress, at which he will also be seeking reelection. The motion will need a three quarters majority to be passed at the FIFA Congress in Zurich.
He was set to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Thursday.
Kamer said that the Palestinian demand had “nothing to do with sports.”
“We see it as a clear mix of politics and football [soccer], something which should not find a place in the FIFA Congress,” he told reporters. “We believe football in our region should be used as a bridge between people.”
Kamer stressed the IFA has “helped the PFA (Palestine Football Association) in any way it could.”
He said regulating the movement of Palestinian players “is not something that is in our hands,” and it was security concerns that prevented the entry of a small number of players into Israel.
“I don’t see any other football associations in the world telling their governments how to deal with security issues,” he said.
The Palestinians are also basing their request for Israel’s expulsion on the alleged “racism” against Arabs of some Israeli clubs.
Kamer acknowledged a problem existed but said it was not unique to Israel. He said the authorities had taken harsh steps against Beitar Jerusalem, which has notoriously ultra-nationalist fans.
“Our national teams are combined with Arabs and Jews, we have joint leagues, joint clubs,” he said. “Instead of trying to use it as a weapon against each other, let’s try to do projects of peace to show football can bring people together.”
Blatter, who was due to speak to reporters after his meeting with Netanyahu, said last week that a successful vote on the Palestinian motion would be a “dangerous” precedent that could get FIFA involved in other political and diplomatic battles.
But he said that Israel would need to “concede something” in return for the motion being rejected.