Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg
FIFA chief Sepp Blatter with IFA head Ofer Eini (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg

Campaign to quash Palestinian bid to suspend Israel from FIFA

Following series of arrests in FIFA corruption scandal, Israeli diplomats call into question organization's credibility, saying Qatar could have paid countries to vote in favor of Palestinians as it may have done with World Cup.

The International Federation of Soccer (FIFA) will vote Friday on a Palestinian bid to suspend Israeli teams from participating in international soccer tournaments.



Behind the scenes, the Foreign Ministry is leading a global diplomatic effort to prevent Israel's suspension from soccer tournaments and to minimize the Palestinians' victory of managing to bring the issue to a vote, with the overall goal of avoiding a serious political crisis.


On top of this, suspicions of corruption are hovering over FIFA, which led to a wave of arrests on Wednesday. It's very possible that some of the above-mentioned behind-closed-doors corrupt activites may have intended to harm Israel.


FIFA was faced with a corruption scandal of unprecedented magnitude and severity on Wednesday morning, which led to the arrests of seven senior members of the organization and the expected investigation in due course of President Sepp Blatter.


However, the suspicions and the series of arrests in Switzerland are not likely to prevent the opening of the FIFA Congress or the vote that is expected to take place there on Friday.


FIFA chief Sepp Blatter with IFA head Ofer Eini (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg) (Photo: Ohan Zoigenberg)
FIFA chief Sepp Blatter with IFA head Ofer Eini (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)


The proposal, introduced by the Palestine Football Association (PFA) is based on the claim 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.


While 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, the Palestinians still view the vote as an achievement because it is an international decision by an important international organization on whether to sanction Israel.


Israel is aware of the vote's political sensitivity and fears that it will be perceived as a diplomatic crisis, and therefore is prepared to fight it.


The chances of the Palestinian proposal's being accepted are not high. They need the support of at least 75 percent of the 209 member associations, most of which are expected to stand beside Israel, or at least will not rush to support such an exceptional procedure.


Nonetheless, Israel has not yet given up on the hope of preventing the vote altogether, and the issue was even raised during the meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu FIFA President Blatter, who has been lobbying furiously to try to avoid the vote, in Israel last week. Blatter also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.


Blatter strongly opposes the vote saying it is bringing politics into football and that Israel has not breached FIFA's statutes.


He said on Wednesday that he had reached an agreement with Netanyahu on four 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; and the establishment of a committee to address disputes that arise in the future.


Meanwhile, Israel has refused the fifth Palestinian demand, which included the suspension of Israeli teams playing beyond the Green Line.


According to estimates, as long as a comprehensive compromise is not reached between the parties, the Palestinians will not retract their proposal.


FIFA chief Sepp Blatter with PFA head Jibril Rajoub (photo: Reuters) (Photo: Reuters)
FIFA chief Sepp Blatter with PFA head Jibril Rajoub (photo: Reuters)


Fatah official Jibril Rajoub, the president of the PFA, declared ahead of his meeting with Blatter in Switzerland on Wednesday that he came "to end the suffering of millions of Palestinian fans."


"Nothing has changed, the vote is still on the agenda," Rajoub told AFP after the meeting with Blatter. "The meeting lasted about one hour, there were no results."


The Foreign Ministry, on the other hand, declared "a diplomatic campaign," and sent ambassadors and diplomats all over the world and recruited honorary consuls from remote countries in which there are no embassies. The campaign is being led by Ofer Eini, the President of the Israel Football Association (IFA) Ofer Eini and his deputy, attorney Tamir Gilat.


"We have reached nearly 70 percent of FIFA's members, but of course not those from Muslim countries, with which we have no relations," a Foreign Ministry official said.


"We have received very good assurances from countries that would oppose the Palestinian bid, but we are taking these promises with a grain of salt as there is always a concern that they will vote as per the directives of the regional confederations."


Diplomatic sources added that the arrests of senior FIFA officials reinforces Israel's concern.


"The corruption affair calls into question FIFA's credibility," diplomatic sources said on Wednesday.


"If indeed the allegations are true, and countries did pay to buy votes on hosting the World Cup, who can guarantee us that votes on the bid to suspend Israel are not being bought? We suspect that Qatar, about whom claims are circulating that it paid in order to host the 2022 World Cup, is now paying countries to vote in favor of the Palestinians."


The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), which unites 54 countries, including Israel, has already mobilized against the Palestinians and it is estimated that its recommendation to oppose the proposal is based on the fear that this kind of precedent will be used by other countries in conflict with their neighbors, such as Ukraine and Russia.


Nevertheless, the Foreign Ministry still worries. "If we fail with FIFA it could have a snowball effect," a Foreign Ministry official explained. "It will not end only with soccer, but is likely to spread to basketball, volleyball, handball, swimming, and then the Olympics. We must not get to that point, so we are engaged in preventive action."


Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom also commented on the vote in his meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. "You must act to prevent this decision. In order to build a relationship of confidence between Israel and the Palestinians, unilateral actions of this sort must be avoided," he said.


AFP contributed to this report.


פרסום ראשון: 05.28.15, 14:01
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