FIFA chief commends ‘exceptional Palestinian gesture’
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FIFA chief commends ‘exceptional Palestinian gesture’

Sepp Blatter says decision to withdraw proposal banning Israel showed heart; Palestinians and Israelis both claim success at soccer congress

FIFA President Sepp Blatter gives a thumbs up at the opening of the 65th FIFA Congress in Zurich on May 29, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI)
FIFA President Sepp Blatter gives a thumbs up at the opening of the 65th FIFA Congress in Zurich on May 29, 2015. (AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI)

FIFA President Sepp Blatter on Saturday thanked the Palestinian Authority for withdrawing a motion Friday to have Israel suspended from international soccer, saying the PA had shown “a big heart” and expressing hope that the sport could help foster better relations between the two sides.

“Yesterday we witnessed how Palestine acted with a big heart,” Blatter said. “They were convinced that they could win a vote to suspend the other federation, but that didn’t happen: they amended their own proposal and removed it. This is an exceptional gesture that deserves to be commended, and I hope that this gesture will serve as a happy omen in the region between the two federations, but also between the two countries.

“Maybe (soccer) can be the precursor towards a solution that everybody wants,” Blatter said. “The two federations are independent, but they have proved that they can work together.”

For his part, the head of the Palestinian Football Association maintained on Saturday that the Palestinian decision to drop the motion was not the result of diplomatic failure, and said the Palestinians had made achievements at the summit.

Jibril Rajoub rejected internal Palestinian criticism of the last minute decision to retract the motion, made amid pressure from dozens of national delegates.

Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub addresses the FIFA Congress on May 29, 2015 (screen capture: FIFA)
Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub addresses the FIFA Congress on May 29, 2015 (screen capture: FIFA)

“The decision was made in coordination with the Arab associations and our (other) supporters, and out of concern for negative responses from Israel,” he said in a statement.

He added that the FIFA Congress’s vote in favor of setting up a monitoring mechanism to oversee treatment of Palestinian soccer teams was “an achievement that can but counted on.”

On Friday Rajoub submitted a last-minute amendment to the proposal, eliminating the demand for a ban, and told the Congress that “a lot of colleagues” had asked him not to call for Israel’s suspension.

“Palestine has not withdrawn it’s application completely, but merely suspended it,” he added.

Rajoub had said the monitoring mechanism should oversee three points: the movement of Palestinian soccer players and soccer equipment donated to the Palestinians, monitoring racism and discrimination against Palestinian soccer players, and the issue of Israeli teams from settlements in the West Bank, which he referred to as “five racist clubs which should be banned.”

The Congress voted 165-18 in favor of the Palestinian amendment, approving the FIFA monitoring mechanism but essentially abandoning the effort to have Israel banned.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday hailed the Palestinian withdrawal as a diplomatic victory.

“Our international effort has proven itself and led to the failure of the Palestinian Authority attempt to oust us from FIFA. I thank all those took part in the international effort that led to the failure of this attempt,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Likud party meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 18, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Likud party meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 18, 2015 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

So long as the Palestinians take unilateral steps against Israel, said Netanyahu, “they will only push peace further away instead of bringing it closer.

“At a time when the international community is calling for confidence-building measures, the Palestinians are once again replying with an attempt to carry out unilateral steps that harm the ability to advance a regional settlement,” he said.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz. (photo credit: FLASH90)
Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz. (photo credit: FLASH90)

Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz also commented on the outcome. Katz, who is also transportation minister, wrote on his Facebook page Friday evening: “Jibril Rajoub has failed in his scheme to kick Israel out of FIFA. Now is the time to lock him up in Muqata’a [the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah] and let him play soccer with his friends.”

Israel Football Association Chairman Ofer Eini credited the FIFA executive committee’s acceptance of Israel’s compromise measures to help ease restrictions on Palestinian players for disarming the Palestinian bid.

Eini said Rajoub attempted to have FIFA defer to the United Nations to determine whether five Israeli soccer teams from West Bank settlements were illegal on account of being in Palestinian territories, but that FIFA blocked this bid too.

“He wanted to make some kind of political achievement, by having the issue debated in the UN,” Eini, speaking to Channel 2 from Zurich, said of Rajoub. “I am happy we succeeded in preventing it.”

While Israel escaped suspension, another country was not so lucky. On Saturday FIFA said Indonesia was suspended, less than two weeks before it was set to begin qualifying matches for the 2018 World Cup.

FIFA said its executive committee approved the sanction because of the Indonesian government’s “effective ‘take over'” of the national football federation. FIFA rules prohibit government interference.

A FIFA ban prevents national and club teams plus officials taking part in international matches and meetings.

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