New FIFA chief seeks resolution on 'settlements'

New president of FIFA says he would make finding a resolution to the conflict over Israeli soccer teams in Judea and Samaria "a priority".

Elad Benari ,

Gianni Infantino
Gianni Infantino

The new president of FIFA, the governing body of international soccer, has said he would make finding a resolution to the conflict over Israeli soccer teams in Judea and Samaria "a priority", JTA reported Thursday.

Gianni Infantino was elected to serve a three-year term as head of FIFA in February.

“This is one of my priorities and our priorities," he was quoted as having told AFP in an exclusive interview. "I have not yet gone into the area simply because the situation is such that at the moment the conditions are not there yet, but we’re working on it.”

A group of 66 members of the European Parliament recently signed a letter calling on Infantino to act to prevent Israeli clubs based in Judea and Samaria from participating in officially sanctioned play.

Subsequently, Human Rights Watch called on FIFA to quit sponsoring Israeli matches in Judea and Samaria, claiming they are being held on “stolen land”.

There are six Israeli teams that play their home matches in communities in Judea and Samaria.

The Palestinian Football Association has accused its Israeli counterpart of violating FIFA rules by holding games without permission on the territory of another member group. A FIFA committee is set to submit recommendations on the issue by October 13, when FIFA holds its executive committee meeting, and is expected to discuss the issue, according to JTA.

Infantino told AFP that he attended a meeting on Wednesday with the commission monitoring the problems affecting the development of soccer in what he called Palestine.

“I just got out of a meeting with Mr. Sexwale to try to find a solution to this issue, which should be a football question but has become a political issue for which the world has not yet found a satisfactory solution,” he said, referring to the head of the committee, South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale.

“We try to put politics aside and talk football and see how we can play the best conditions for football in this region,” added Infantino.

“I am always confident that with dialogue, with discussion and by talking only of sport and by leaving out the politics, we can find a solution,” he continued.

Israel is constantly being targeted at FIFA. Last year, the head of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub campaigned to have Israel suspended from FIFA because, he claimed, Israel was restricting the movement of Palestinian Arab players.

However, he withdrew the bid at the 11th hour, sparking anger among Palestinian Arabs, some of whom demanded Rajoub’s resignation.