Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday commended FIFA members for helping thwart a Palestinian bid to have Israel suspended from international soccer, and hailed the efforts of Israel’s football chief in orchestrating the diplomatic effort.
The prime minister spoke shortly after the Palestinian delegation to FIFA on Friday dropped a motion to have the Israeli soccer federation suspended from international football amid pressure from dozens of national delegates.
“Our international effort has proven itself and led to the failure of the Palestinian Authority attempt to oust us from FIFA. I thank all those took part in the international effort that led to the failure of this attempt, including the Israeli delegation in Switzerland led by Israel Football Association Chairman Ofer Eini,” Netanyahu said.
“The State of Israel is interested in a peace that will ensure security for its citizens but this will not be achieved through coercion and distorting the truth. The only way to achieve peace is to begin negotiations between the sides,” he added.
So long as the Palestinians take unilateral steps against Israel, said Netanyahu, “they will only push peace further away instead of bringing it closer.”
“At a time when the international community is calling for confidence-building measures, the Palestinians are once again replying with an attempt to carry out unilateral steps that harm the ability to advance a regional settlement.”
Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz called for the head of the Palestinian Football Association to be locked up and left “to play soccer with his friends.”
Katz, who is also transportation minister, wrote on his Facebook page Friday evening: “Jibril Rajoub has failed in his scheme to kick Israel out of FIFA. Now is the time to lock him up in Muqata’a (the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah) and let him play soccer with his friends.”
Eini, the head of the Israeli Football Association, said he wasn’t responsible for convincing the Palestinians to drop the motion. Instead, he credited the FIFA executive committee’s acceptance of Israel’s compromise measures to help ease restrictions on Palestinian players for disarming the Palestinian bid.
Eini said Rajoub attempted to have FIFA defer to the United Nations to determine whether five Israeli soccer teams from West Bank settlements were illegal on account of being in Palestinian territories, but that FIFA blocked this bid too.
“He wanted to make some kind of political achievement, by having the issue debated in the UN,” Eini, speaking to Channel 2 from Zurich, said of Rajoub. “I am happy we succeeded in preventing it.”
Likud MK and coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi said that the Palestinians’ failed attempt to have Israel suspended from FIFA was an “own goal.” Hanegbi’s comment followed Rajoub’s statement at the podium before the FIFA Congress that “I don’t want to score goals, I want to end suffering.”
“They intended to weaken and harm Israel, and wound up isolated and embarrassed,” Hanegbi said.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said that the diplomatic effort made by the Palestinians in recent days at FIFA was a red light warning of the dangers standing in Israel’s path if it doesn’t change its diplomatic strategy.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s former foreign minister, said that the Palestinians, “are trying to intimidate and harm Israel and are using any international forum to do so.”
Omer Bar-Lev, a Zionist Union MK, voiced less enthusiasm for the diplomatic success in Zurich. “Our problem is that our captain, Bibi, plays like a defender,” Bar-Lev said, continuing the soccer allusions. “What we need is a center-forward who initiates, creates chances and ultimately scores a goal.”
Rajoub submitted a last-minute amendment to the proposal and told the congress that “a lot of colleagues” asked him not to call for Israel’s suspension.
“Palestine has not withdrawn its application completely, but merely suspended it,” he added. “A lot of colleagues, whom I respect and whose commitment to the ethics and values of the game I appreciate, told me how painful it is to hear of the issue of suspension.
“But I want to protect the Palestinian footballers, to let them enjoy the privilege of the game as others do.”
He said dozens of football presidents called on him to drop the bid, “but it does not mean that I give up the resistance.”
Instead, Rajoub called on international delegates to vote on setting up a monitoring mechanism to oversee three points: the movement of Palestinian soccer players and soccer equipment donated to the Palestinians, monitoring racism and discrimination against Palestinian soccer players, and the issue of Israeli teams from settlements in the West Bank, which he referred to as “five racist clubs which should be banned.”
Theatrically, Rajoub pulled out a referee’s red card at the podium, saying he was showing the card in a protest against “racism, humiliation and demonstration in Palestine and everywhere.”
Eini requested to speak immediately afterwards, and FIFA President Sepp Blatter gave him the podium. Israeli Football Association head Eini said he was “delighted” that the Palestinians had dropped the motion and called on Rajoub to “leave politics to politicians.”
“I appeal to Jibril Rajoub… I want us to work together, I want us to cooperate, I want us to hug and embrace each other,” Eini said, addressing the congress in Hebrew.
“There is one thing on which I disagree with you,” he said. “We must not involve politics and football.” He said the five teams Rajoub sought to ban were kids’ sports teams.
“There are always differences of opinion… but if we can speak, we can always resolve our differences,” he said. We have proposed a joint committee (Israel, the Palestinians and FIFA)… and I hope we will be able to resolve all problems as they arise.”
“I call upon you to join me on the podium and shake hands,” he said, inviting Rajoub to join him on stage — an offer Rajoub rejected.
“I am ready to come and shake hands, but let us vote, make a deal — me and you will cooperate under the umbrella of FIFA,” Rajoub said. “Let us vote for the items I have raised, then we can shake hands.”
Blatter said that the congress would not debate the issue of the standing of the Palestinian territories, which the Palestinian delegation protested, saying either all three amendments would be voted on or none at all.
Blatter clarified that the FIFA executive committee ruled that the congress “cannot interfere into political territories.”
The congress voted 165-18 in favor of the Palestinian amendment, essentially abandoning the effort to have Israel banned, after which Eini and Rajoub shook hands.
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev praised FIFA for “not giving politics a foothold in sports.” The Likud minister invited Rajoub to meet with her and work out the problems facing Palestinian football players for the sake of all athletes.