Israel lobbies FIFA as settlement showdown looms

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JERUSALEM: Israel is launching a diplomatic offensive against Palestinian calls for FIFA to impose sanctions over football clubs based in Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, an official said on Thursday.

The world football governing body meets for its congress in Bahrain from May 10 to 11 and could decide what action to take over the six clubs based in settlements that play in the Israeli league.

Palestinian leaders have demanded that the Israeli federation be suspended from world football unless it orders the clubs to relocate to within Israel’s internationally recognised borders.

“Dozens of Israeli ambassadors have received instructions to engage in dialogue with FIFA delegates in the countries where they are posted to counter the unacceptable attempt by the Palestinians to politicise sport,” the Israeli official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The official said they would seek to have the issue removed from the May meeting’s agenda.

Earlier this month, Palestinian football chief Jibril Rajoub renewed calls for FIFA to exclude Israel from international competition until clubs playing in the occupied territories are barred.

He expressed disappointment with the options being put to FIFA members to resolve the issue.

Those were agreed last month by a special committee chaired by South African sports official Tokyo Sexwale.

Rajoub said the first — maintaining the status quo — would be a violation of the world body’s statutes, which ban any federation from organising matches on a territory that is not its own, without the agreement of the federation of the country concerned.

The second would give the Israeli federation six months “to rectify the situation of the six clubs in question,” while the third would request fresh negotiations between the two sides, which look unlikely to bear fruit.

Rajoub said he would “prefer that we go right away to sanctions and to suspension (of the Israeli federation).”

Palestine has been a member of FIFA since 1998 and plays in the Asian Football Confederation.

Israel plays in Europe having been expelled from the AFC in 1974.

Football is Israel’s most popular sport and several of its clubs have qualified for the UEFA Champions League.

In December, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the occupied territories for the first time since 1979.

Israel rejected the resolution but Human Rights Watch said it would increase the pressure on FIFA to act.

AFP

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