Palestinians refuse to back down on FIFA vote to expel Israel

AFP reports: Palestine’s football chief on Wednesday continued his refusal to back down on a threatened vote to suspend Israel from football’s governing body after talks with increasingly desperate FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

“Nothing has changed, the vote is still on the agenda,” Palestinian Football Association president Jibril Rajoub told AFP after the meeting with Blatter and as the countdown to Friday’s vote gathered pace.

“The meeting lasted about one hour, there were no results,” Rajoub said.

Palestine, which has been a FIFA member since 1998, wants the governing body to suspend Israel over its restrictions on the movement of Palestinian players, and opposes the participation in the Israeli championships of five clubs located in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, illegal under international law.

The vote is scheduled for Friday and needs a simple majority of over 50% of the 209 members to succeed.

Blatter has been lobbying furiously to try to avoid the vote, travelling to the Middle East last week to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and president Mahmoud Abbas. [Continue reading…]

Other reports say the vote would require 75% in favor to pass and one report says a two-thirds majority. No doubt FIFA officials are more preoccupied with other questions right now (such as how likely it is that they will end up in jail), but is it really that difficult for the press to establish one basic fact?

Daoud Kuttab adds: Blatter told Palestinians that he has received new concessions from the Israelis regarding the travel issues of Palestinian players. A committee has been created, including a Palestinian, an Israeli and a FIFA representative, who meet on a monthly basis to review the situation.

“Our issue with the Israelis is not only about the movement of our players. We can’t accept that the Israeli Football Association includes five clubs from settlements and the racism in Israeli stadiums,” Rajoub said. Israeli soccer teams and their fans act and tolerate a high level of racism against Arabs in the stadiums. FIFA has a strong policy against racism and conducts campaigns to root it out of the game.

FIFA statutes include the protection of its associations from others playing in its country. Settlements are considered illegal according to international law and therefore, Israeli soccer teams would need the approval of the Palestinians to play in the settlements built in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Eamonn McCann notes: Palestinian footballer Sameh Maraabah was arrested last Thursday by Israeli security agents at the Allenby Bridge, the only crossing point available to Palestinians between the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the outside world.

The team had been en route to Tunisia for a training camp in preparation for a game against Saudi Arabia on June 11th.

The incident came within 24 hours of talks between Fifa president Sepp Blatter and Israeli and Palestinian officials in Tel Aviv and Ramallah about a Palestinian bid to have Israel suspended from Fifa for persistent harassment of Palestinian players and allowing teams from illegal West Bank settlements to compete in the Israeli league.

On Thursday evening, the head of the Palestine FA (PFA), Jibril Rajoub, wrote to Blatter complaining: “The Israeli government’s promise [at the talks] to facilitate the movement of our players is having its first test . . . Player Sameh Maraabah has been detained for two hours now . . . The team has decided it will not leave without him.”

The team was able to resume its journey an hour later. The Israelis insisted that Maraabah had been delayed solely as a security risk and accused the PFA of “provocation”.

Iyad Abu Gharqoud, who plays for the Palestine national team, writes: Soccer is a beautiful game, but it can be cruel, too — and not just in the near-misses and penalty shootouts. One of the ironies of my professional career is that it has brought me tantalizingly close to Beersheba, the city in southern Israel once known as Bir Saba — an Arab community that was expelled in 1948, my family included.

Today, our players are frequently arrested and detained. Last year, two of our most talented young players were shot and wounded by Israeli forces at a checkpoint. The border police reported that the young men were about to throw a bomb; in fact, they were on their way home from training at our national stadium in the West Bank. According to The Nation, they were both shot in the feet, sustaining injuries that have ended their soccer careers.

Israel has also tried to block players from other countries from entering Palestine to play against us. And during last year’s Gaza conflict, Israeli jets bombed our soccer fields and recreational areas. Israel’s policies have succeeded in making the beautiful game ugly.

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