Israel’s prime minister hailed the decision made on Thursday by the FIFA Congress not to vote on a Palestinian Football Association (PFA) motion aimed at ordering the Israel Football Association (IFA) to stop holding games in the West Bank.
FIFA regulations prohibit a member’s association from holding competitions on the territory of another member’s association without the latter’s permission, and the PFA considers the West Bank to be Palestinian—not Israeli—territory.
“We won another victory in Israel’s battle for its international standing,” said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in an official statement. “We thwarted an attempt to undermine Israel’s standing in FIFA.
“This is an important achievement. We will continue to defend the State of Israel and will continue to strengthen our international standing.”
Netanyahu also commended the efforts of the Israeli institutions involved in the campaign to deny the Palestinian motion, including Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, IFA Chairman Ofer Eini, the staff of the Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and the National Security Council.
“Thanks to a diplomatic effort by the Foreign Ministry, a Palestinian political move to harm Israeli football teams was thwarted,” echoed Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.
According to a September, 2016 report by Human Rights Watch titled “Israel/Palestine: FIFA Sponsoring Games on Seized Land,” six IFA soccer clubs are based in settlements and host their official home matches there on land that HRW claims has been unlawfully taken from and that is off-limits to Palestinians.
These teams include the Ariel municipal soccer team, Rosh HaAyin’s Hapo’el Oranit, and Beitar Ma’aleh Adumim.
FIFA has been addressing this issue since 2013 and appointed a special monitoring committee in 2015. Although its chairman contended that a decision on the matter was long overdue, the FIFA Council, the association’s non-executive strategic body, held on May 9 that a decision on the clubs would be “premature.”
“The ‘settlements’ question in Judea and Samaria is an extremely complex political issue,” International Legal Forum Director Yifa Segal told Tazpit Press Service (TPS). “FIFA should not be the forum to deal with the matter, and its members are certainly not fit to rule on it. This is not the platform where conflicts and political wars are being resolved.”
Segal explained that although the international community has claimed that Israel is occupying the West Bank and that the settlements are illegal, no binding resolution or legal instrument has ever established that under international law. In addition, she argued that according to legal precedents on occupation, cultural, educational and sports institutions should only be concerned with the country that is sovereign on the ground.
“Israel is de facto in control of the territory, so legally FIFA’s interference stops there,” continued Segal. “The international community understands this, and there is no boycott of soccer teams, musicians or artists in other areas of conflict.”
Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine Advocacy Director Sari Bashi fiercely criticized the decision and argued that FIFA President Gianni Infantino has shown that he has no intention of making his organization comply with basic human rights.
This decision follows a petition of the International Legal Forum to FIFA aimed at removing PFA President Jibril Rajoub for violating FIFA statuses by supporting terrorism.