FIFA head calls for Israeli concession in Palestinian football dispute

Sepp Blatter to meet PM, Abbas next week, says ‘onus’ is on Israel to ease movement of West Bank, Gaza players

FIFA President Sepp Blatter. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)
FIFA President Sepp Blatter. (Photo credit: Shutterstock)

FIFA leader Sepp Blatter said Friday he hopes to head off a Palestinian call for a vote to expel Israel from football’s governing body but that Israel must make a concession.

Blatter said he will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas next Wednesday and Thursday in a bid to end what he called his biggest “challenge.”

The Palestinians have sought a vote at the FIFA Congress on May 29 claiming abuse of Palestinian footballers by Israel.

Blatter has made it clear he opposes the vote but that “a solution is only a realistic proposition when those who are privileged are prepared to concede something and contribute to equality.

“The onus in this respect is on Israel with its outstanding infrastructure, fully functioning professional league and economic context,” Blatter wrote in his weekly column for a FIFA magazine.

In an interview with a small group of reporters including AFP, Blatter said Israel should make it easier for Palestinian and foreign footballers and sports equipment to get in and out of the Palestinian territories.

He added that Netanyahu “would not receive the FIFA delegation if he is not ready to make some concessions, I am sure.”

“He knows the situation,” added Blatter who has been trying to end the dispute for two years.

Blatter said he would meet Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Wednesday and Abbas in Ramallah the next day.

“Palestine,” which has been a FIFA member since 1998, wants the 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 West Bank. The clubs play in the third and fourth divisions.

The motion will need a three quarters majority to be passed at the FIFA Congress in Zurich.

The FIFA president held his latest meeting with the heads of the Israeli and Palestinian federations in Zurich last Sunday.

He said he hoped that after his talks with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the federation will hold new talks to find a solution before the May 29 deadline.

“This is my number one challenge for my remaining time to the election. But it is a very delicate problem,” said Blatter, who will seek a fifth term in a FIFA election also on May 29.

He added that the case was making headlines “from South America to Asia.”

“There is so much pressure by social media towards FIFA to kick out Israel on one side and on the other side keep Israel in.”

Israel Football Association president Ofer Eini has accused the Palestinian federation of launching the initiative to score political points as the Palestinians seek greater international recognition.

Blatter said that a successful vote would be a “dangerous” precedent that could get FIFA involved in other political and diplomatic battles.

“It opens the door,” he said. “We want to be in sport and not in politics. This would be a very dangerous precedent, we have to fight (it) but they realize that it would be a precedent.”

On Sunday, Blatter met with Eini and his Palestinian counterpart, Jibril Rajoub.

The Palestinians said there had been no progress at the meeting, adding they would not be deterred from efforts to have Israel suspended.

“It is clear that the Israeli Soccer Association is not willing to recognize the PFA as a federation with equal rights and obligations, just as they continue to violate their commitments made before FIFA,” Rajoub said in a statement.

“We are therefore determined to continue our path to suspend the Israeli Soccer Association during the next FIFA Congress.”

In a statement, the IFA said the parties discussed “various possibilities for canceling the Palestinian request to hold a vote on Israel’s suspension at the upcoming congress,” with Eini saying he was “a little more optimistic” after the talks.

The Israeli soccer chief praised Blatter’s “sincere efforts” to resolve the matter, but said they were preparing for the eventuality of a vote.

“I am convinced that it will be possible to move forward in a more significant way during Blatter’s visit to the region, and it is important that the dialogue continues,” he said in a statement.

“This is an attempt to mix politics and sport, and there is no place for this within FIFA,” he said. “It is clear to me that most FIFA members understand very well the intention behind this Palestinian move and the destructive impact it would have on the agency.”

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