Israel claims a victory as FIFA delays decision on settlement soccer clubs
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Israel claims a victory as FIFA delays decision on settlement soccer clubs

Head of sport’s official body says he hopes Trump can solve the ‘sensitive issue’ with peace push

President of the Israeli Football Association Ofer Eini and ISA CEO Rotem Kamer (L) attend the 67th FIFA Congress in the Bahraini capital Manama on May 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
President of the Israeli Football Association Ofer Eini and ISA CEO Rotem Kamer (L) attend the 67th FIFA Congress in the Bahraini capital Manama on May 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

MANAMA, Bahrain — FIFA will rule on the issue of Israeli clubs playing in the West Bank by October, president Gianni Infantino said Thursday, once again delaying a decision on the issue, in what Israel hailed as a diplomatic victory.

FIFA’s annual Congress voted to back — by a majority of 73 to 27 percent — a proposal that pushed soccer’s governing body to report by March 2018, but Infantino said feedback would come before then.

“We will take responsibility and we will take a decision on this matter,” he said, adding FIFA would rule in October.

The Palestine Football Association argues that the six Israeli soccer clubs in the West Bank are in breach of FIFA statutes, which forbids a member association playing on another’s territory without permission.

Israel argues that FIFA rules are not applicable as there is no permanent border and the territory is in dispute.

A man watches his son during a training session of the Beitar Shabi Givat Zeev soccer club, in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze'ev, near Jerusalem, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
A man watches his son during a training session of the Beitar Shabi Givat Zeev soccer club, in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze’ev, near Jerusalem, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The Congress heard from both the Palestinian and Israeli federations before taking the vote.

Palestinian soccer chief Jibril Rajoub told delegates his association wanted the same rights as others.

Palestinian Football Association head Jibril Rajoub delivers a speech during the 67th FIFA Congress in the Bahraini capital Manama on May 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
Palestinian Football Association head Jibril Rajoub delivers a speech during the 67th FIFA Congress in the Bahraini capital Manama on May 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

“We are not looking for suspension or expulsion but the full recognition of our right that no Israeli clubs play in our territory,” he said.

“None of you will accept that any clubs play in your territory.”

However, Israel Football Association head Ofer Eini said the PFA was looking for a political solution.

“The sole purpose is to establish the political boundaries,” he told the Congress.

“This is outside the authority of FIFA to establish borders.

“What are you trying to stop five or six teams of children from playing football? Will that resolve the Palestinian problem?”

President of the Israeli Football Association Ofer Eini delivers a speech during the 67th FIFA Congress in the Bahraini capital Manama on May 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
President of the Israeli Football Association Ofer Eini delivers a speech during the 67th FIFA Congress in the Bahraini capital Manama on May 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

In a statement, Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem hailed the Foreign Ministry, Culture Ministry, the National Security Council and the Israel Soccer Association for their work in helping to convince member states to vote in favor of a further delay.

“The Foreign Ministry will continue to be at the heart of the action, at both its headquarters in Jerusalem and its representative [offices] around the world,” he said.

“This was a victory in one battle of the campaign that is expected to continue in the months ahead,” he added.

A FIFA commission chaired by South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale has presented several potential solutions and a fresh report was handed to the FIFA Council on Wednesday, said Infantino, without giving further details.

Following the decision, campaign group Avaaz said the FIFA president had been “bullied” by Israel.

“FIFA has failed and football has lost again,” said Fadi Quran, senior campaigner with Avaaz.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino arrives to a press conference at the 67th FIFA Congress in the Bahraini capital Manama on May 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
FIFA President Gianni Infantino arrives to a press conference at the 67th FIFA Congress in the Bahraini capital Manama on May 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

In a press conference after the Congress finished, Infantino admitted it was a “sensitive issue” and noted that the new American leadership said it is was trying to find a peace settlement.

“Hopefully [US] President Trump can find a solution. If he has any good ideas, I am happy take them on board,” he said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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