The Palestinian Soccer Association will not drop its bid to have its Israeli counterpart suspended from the International Federation of Soccer, the organization’s chief said Wednesday after talks with the head of the world soccer body in Ramallah.
“We will keep the proposal on the agenda (of the upcoming FIFA Congress) for sincere and open discussions by the 208 FIFA member associations,” Jibril Rajoub said at a joint press conference with FIFA chief Sepp Blatter.
Palestinians say Israeli security restrictions are limiting movement of Palestinian players, visiting teams and soccer equipment.
“There will be no compromising on free movement of our athletes and officials,” Rajoub added.
While Rajoub did not dismiss out of hand the idea of a “match for peace” between the Israeli and Palestinian teams, he said conditions are not yet ripe for such a game.
“Yesterday, you raised a very great idea … It’s a creative idea, I like it,” he told Blatter at the press conference.
“But we have to pave the road for that. We have to prepare the environment. But this should be an endgame. This should be a purpose for you and I urge you not to give up,” he said.
Blatter is visiting Jerusalem and Ramallah to try to mediate the dispute between the two governments and convince the Palestinian Football Association to drop the bid to suspend Israel from FIFA’s agenda in a May 29 meeting in Zurich. Israel in turn has been making efforts to blunt the effort by the Palestinians.
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.
Blatter met on Tuesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and was set to meet PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday.
Even though Blatter opposes the Palestinian bid to have Israel suspended from FIFA, he informed reporters on Tuesday that he didn’t have the power to take the issue off the agenda.
He said the move was a “very unusual and a very serious matter” but that Israel has not broken FIFA statutes.
Rotem Kemer, the Israeli federation’s chief executive, said Tuesday 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.”
Netanyahu praised Blatter for opposing the politicization of sports. “Sports is a vehicle of goodwill among nations. 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,” Netanyahu said.
Blatter said he was passing a message on from Netanyahu to the Palestinian football chiefs and it would be up to them how they responded.
“We are here in the King David (Hotel) and I feel I am a little bit in Camp David,” said Blatter referring to the country retreat of American presidents where down the years, largely away from the glare of the cameras, the likes of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have hosted peace talks between various parties.
During his meeting with Blatter, Netanyahu said Israel would consider “certain” measures to help Palestinian soccer. “We will discuss a certain number of measures that could improve the situation [of Paestinian soccer],” he said, without providing details.
AP contributed to this report.