Political battles are fought in many forms. Ideally, they are discussions or debates held in a civilized manner. Unfortunately, they may take the form of armed conflict. Recently, the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians has moved into the world of sports and it has the potential of setting a painful precedent.
On Friday, the Palestinian Authority will propose a resolution at the FIFA Congress in Zurich to suspend Israel from international competition. The claim of the Palestine Football Association (PFA) is that Palestinian athletes are not entitled to freedom of movement at border crossings between Israel and Palestinian territories, and thus Israel actually harms Palestinian soccer.
There is an online petition supporting the ban claiming Israel’s right to participate in international sporting events should be suspended due to their alleged ongoing human rights violations against the Palestinians. This petition is spurious, in that FIFA does not deal with the political aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and its authority only covers alleged violations of the game’s freedom.
At this time, the status of the vote is still unclear. Ofer Eini, President of the Israeli Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Association, and FIFA President Sepp Blatter, have been meeting non-stop to negotiate the issue. Blatter also met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
“We are preparing for a vote even though this is a very bad development, ” said an official in the Foreign Ministry. “We will do everything until the last moment to prevent any vote, but we are preparing for the vote as well.”
The international organization that oversees some of the largest sporting events in the world is in the midst of many internal struggles and scandals that have led to organization officials being arrested. Being pulled into the Arab-Israeli conflict is an additional burden they cannot bear.
Netanyahu addressed the serious issue, warning the organization of the far-reaching implications of the vote.
“The effort to hurt Israel will destroy FIFA because if they start with one country they will move on to another and it will collapse the organization. The effort to suspend Israel is severe and we will resist it unequivocally.”
In Ynet, it was reported that Netanyahu spoke to Sepp Blatter, the Swiss football administrator who serves as the eighth and current president of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association). Blatter is up for re-election at the Congress and facing calls for his retirement due to the ongoing corruption scandal. “I told Blatter that if he allows the suspension of Israel he will have allowed for the destruction of FIFA.”
It was reported that Netanyahu conceded four essential points:
· Granting freedom of travel documents subject to Israeli review to athletes, referees and sports officials living in Gaza and the West Bank
· tax exemptions on all sporting equipment arriving to the PFA
· building soccer fields within the Palestinian Authority and Gaza through coordinated localization committees
· the establishment of a committee to address disputes that arise in the future
Netanyahu refused a fifth concession; Rajoubi insisted that the Israeli association expel five teams based in the West Bank. Rajoub has threatened to bring the fate of these teams before UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Blatter has expressed opposition to the impending vote, and called Israeli attempts at addressing Palestinian concerns “constructive”. Rajoub however, ridiculed Blatter and didn’t say that he would accept Israeli concessions.
For the proposal to pass, it needs 75% of the 209 members, which is considered unlikely. Nonetheless, even if the resolution arrives at the table to be voted upon, it will be considered a victory for the Palestinians. It will be a public relations debacle for Israel and a flurry of similar actions in other areas will surely follow.
The scandals within FIFA work to Israel’s disadvantage since Blatter will need the support of the Arab nations to retain his position.