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Palestinians seek ban on Israel at world soccer body

Israeli chief decries ‘attempt to mix politics and sport,’ says move would have ‘destructive impact’ on FIFA

FIFA President Sepp Blatter sits between Prince Ali of Jordan (left), and Jibril Rajoub (right), who heads the Palestinian Football Federation, at the presidential headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on May 26, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Abbas Momani)
FIFA President Sepp Blatter sits between Prince Ali of Jordan (left), and Jibril Rajoub (right), who heads the Palestinian Football Federation, at the presidential headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on May 26, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Abbas Momani)

The Palestinian Soccer Association vowed Sunday to push ahead with efforts to have Israel suspended from FIFA following joint talks with the world soccer body’s president Sepp Blatter in Zurich.

But both sides agreed to continue talking with Blatter, who announced plans to visit the region for top-level talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the issue ahead of the upcoming FIFA Congress in Zurich on May 28-29.

News of the visit was announced by Blatter on Sunday as he met with Israel Soccer Association chief Ofer Eini and his Palestinian counterpart, Jibril Rajoub.

FIFA said the main purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Palestinian FA’s request to suspend their Israeli counterparts at the upcoming FIFA congress.

But 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.”

Palestine, which has been a member of FIFA since 1998, is currently pressuring world soccer’s governing body to bar Israel from international competition over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players.

It is also protesting the participation in the Israeli national championships of five clubs located in Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The clubs play in the third and fourth divisions.

The Palestinians want the matter put to a vote at the annual FIFA Congress, where it will only pass if it gets the support of three-quarters of the 209 member federations.

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.

‘Mixing politics and sport’

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.”

FIFA said both associations had “agreed to pursue the dialogue.”

Blatter has spoken out against suspending the Israeli FA.

“Such a situation should not come up at the FIFA Congress because the suspension of a federation, whatever the reason may be, is always damaging to the organization as a whole,” he said in Cairo last week.

The Palestinians say they are confident of winning support from many federations within the congress, notably those based in Africa and Asia, recalling how the Asian Soccer Conference banned Israel in the mid-1970s.

Israel’s Soccer Association, which was recognized by FIFA in 1929 during the British Mandate, was admitted to the Asian Soccer Conference in 1954, but expelled 20 years later following pressure from Arab and Muslim members.

It was admitted to UEFA in 1994.

In related news, the Palestinian national team will take on Saudi Arabia in a World Cup qualifier on June 11 at Faisal Husseini stadium in Al-Ram near Jerusalem, Palestinian officials said.

“It is the first time that Saudi Arabia are coming to play in Palestine,” officials told AFP.

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