In addition to the arm wrestling between Israeli Football Association Chairman Ofer Eini and Palestinian Football Association Chairman Jibril Rajoub, quite a major drama took place at the FIFA leadership over the weekend: Senior Jordanian public figures and journalists lamented Prince Ali bin Hussein's defeat (which was, admittedly, known in advance) in the race for the presidency of the international governing body of association football.
The prince from Amman made a significant effort to beat and replace FIFA's veteran president (in the past 17 years), Sepp Blatter, whose name has been linked to numerous scandals. The Hashemite prince, King Abdullah's half brother, promised not to hold onto the presidency for more than one term, to run the organization with full financial transparency and to clean its institutions of scandals and of the allegations of racketeering, fraud and money laundering involving tens of millions of dollars.
That didn’t help him of course. The 79-year-old Blatter got 133 votes from the organization's activists and was elected for a fifth term. And so Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 can rest assured that despite the criticism over millions of dollars transferred from one hand to another and about hundreds of foreign workers who died (in Qatar) during hectic construction work in the extreme heat, they will still host the World Cup games.
If money was transferred under the table, no one has decisive proof. Blatter strongly denies it, and what was will be again, far from snooping eyes. Blatter was revealed as a seasoned politician, and his competitor, Prince Ali, who won only 73 of the votes, is invited to shelve his ambitious plans.
Israel, of course, wanted the Jordanian prince to win. He is 40 years younger than Blatter, a combat pilot who served in the army's elite units, and a particularly popular figure on the Jordanian street since his mother, Queen Alia (Touqan, from Nablus), was killed in a mysterious helicopter crash, leaving two little orphans – a boy and girl – behind. His sister Haya married the emir of Dubai, and Ali married CNN correspondent in Baghdad and Amman, Rym Brahimi, the daughter of an accomplished diplomat and the United Nations' special envoy to Syria.
We have never heard an anti-Israel statement from Prince Ali. Had he won the FIFA presidency, it would have been fascinating to follow his conduct in the Rajoub vs. Israel affair.
Rajoub, who was nicknamed "Gabriel Regev" by former Shin Bet chief Yaakov Peri, has a bellyful of criticism against us. Seventeen years in the Israeli prison, fluent Hebrew, quarrels and reconciliations with Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, and mainly a big mouth against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even before appropriating the position of the Palestinian FA chairman.
Because of the slanderous statements and conduct which irritated the heads of our security organizations, his VIP status was revoked two years ago. That means that every time "Abu Rami" plans to leave the West Bank, he must receive permits, stand in long queues in the checkpoints, arrange a special escort when he is invited to Tel Aviv and depends on the mood of the decision makers in Jerusalem.
We temporarily made it out of the affair, but Rajoub has no intention of giving up. While he dropped the demand to suspend Israel from FIFA, his initiative to appoint an international committee which will serve as a mechanism supervising the treatment of footballers from the West Bank and Gaza remains on the table. That means that every time Israel prevents football players from crossing, Rajoub will pick up the phone and call Switzerland.
It also means that the troubling issue of racism against Israeli Arab footballers is expected to echo in our ears. And it mainly means that the Rajoub-Eini-Netanyahu affair (with Abbas' encouragement) is holding a mirror up to our eyes: When there is no peace process, when we insist on building in the settlements and there are no voices of peace, the political game reaches the soccer fields – and it's not in our favor.