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Palestinian soccer chief asks FIFA to reject reported Netanyahu lobbying

Jibril Rajoub says unprecedented for PM to ask soccer body head to torpedo agenda item on settlement teams

Palestinian Football Association (PFA) head Jibril Rajoub holds a press conference on October 12, 2016, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Abbas Momani/AFP)
Palestinian Football Association (PFA) head Jibril Rajoub holds a press conference on October 12, 2016, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

MANAMA, Bahrain — Palestinian soccer chief Jibril Rajoub said Monday that any attempt by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pressure FIFA to back down from possibly taking measures against Israeli clubs from the West Bank was unheard of in the history of the game.

Rajoub, speaking after the Asian Football Confederation’s congress in Bahrain, was responding to media reports that Netanyahu had personally telephoned FIFA president Gianni Infantino and urged the FIFA boss to halt world soccer’s governing body discussing possible sanctions against six Israeli clubs from West Bank settlements at its annual congress later this week.

“What happened yesterday, the Israeli prime minister called Infantino and asked him to delete this item from the agenda of FIFA,” said Rajoub.

“This has no precedent in the history of football.”

He continued: “He phoned Infantino. I am sure that Mr. Infantino is not working for Mr. Netanyahu, he was elected by FIFA and he represents the interests of FIFA.”

The contentious issue of the clubs threatens to cast a shadow over FIFA’s congress, which takes place on May 11, also in Bahrain.

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

Israel argues that FIFA rules are unenforceable as there is no permanent border.

A FIFA commission chaired by South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale presented several potential solutions in a report in March, but these were rejected by Rajoub.

On Monday, the AFC president, Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa, told the congress that the confederation would “always be hand-in-hand with our brothers” in the Palestinian territories.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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