Soccer officials step up bid to head off Israel expulsion vote
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Soccer officials step up bid to head off Israel expulsion vote

FIFA officials holding negotiations with Ramallah to convince it to pull vote to have Israel booted from world soccer body

FIFA president Sepp Blatter, right, releases a dove next to Palestine Football Association President Jibril Rajoub, during his visit to the West Bank on May 20, 2015. (AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)
FIFA president Sepp Blatter, right, releases a dove next to Palestine Football Association President Jibril Rajoub, during his visit to the West Bank on May 20, 2015. (AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)

ZURICH, Switzerland — FIFA leaders on Tuesday stepped up efforts to head off a vote called by the Palestinians to expel Israel from soccer’s world body claiming unfair treatment of its players.

“Negotiations are still going on but they are very complicated,” a top FIFA official told AFP.

“There may not be a solution until the final hours,” added the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has held talks with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a bid to prevent the politically charged vote at a FIFA congress on Friday.

FIFA would not discuss the talks. But a spokeswoman for the governing body said “only Palestine can withdraw the demand to suspend Israel from the agenda.”

Palestinian Football Association president Jibril Rajoub has so far refused to withdraw the motion, which will require the backing of three-quarters of the 209 member federations to pass.

Ramallah, which has been a FIFA member since 1998, wants world football’s governing body to bar Israel from international competition over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players.

It also opposes the participation in the Israeli championships of five clubs located in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Blatter told the FIFA executive committee on Monday about his trip to the Middle East last week to meet Netanyahu and Abbas. But he did not report a deal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with FIFA President Sepp Blatter, May 19, 2015 (screen capture: YouTube/IsraeliPM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with FIFA President Sepp Blatter, May 19, 2015 (screen capture: YouTube/IsraeliPM)

Blatter’s main talks have been with Rajoub and Israel Football Association President Ofer Eini, who says restrictions on Palestinian players are a security question.

“The FIFA president will report to the Congress on this dossier later this week with the aim of providing a framework for strengthening the development of football in the region,” said a FIFA statement.

Blatter strongly opposes the vote, saying it is bringing politics into football and that Israel has not breached FIFA’s statutes.

“The executive underlined that a FIFA member association should not be suspended if it has not violated the FIFA statutes,” said the statement.

Even though Blatter opposes the Palestinian bid to have Israel suspended from FIFA, he informed reporters last week that he didn’t have the power to take the issue off the agenda.

Israeli leaders, including in the country’s soccer federation, have been lobbying intensely against the measure and calling the accusations against Israel baseless. Many are making the case that the bid is entirely about hurting Israel’s reputation by putting these ideas into public discourse.

Israel told Blatter it would set up mechanisms to ease the movement of footballers and set up a working group to monitor the situation.

Rotem Kemer, the Israeli federation’s chief executive, said earlier this month that Israel has approved more than 95 percent of the Palestinian requests this year for players to move between Gaza and the West Bank and to travel abroad.

In a conference call to foreign journalists, he said the Palestinian association was holding its Israeli counterpart “hostage in a fight against our government.”

AP contributed to this report.

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