FIFA mulling ultimatum to Israel over 'settlement clubs'

FIFA considering giving Israel a six-month ultimatum to stop soccer games in Judea and Samaria.

Ben Ariel ,

Soccer (illustration)
Soccer (illustration)

FIFA, the the international governing body of soccer, is considering giving Israel a six-month ultimatum to stop soccer games in Judea and Samaria, Haaretz revealed on Sunday.

According to the report, FIFA's committee on the Israeli-Palestinian issue has recommended that the federation give the Israel Football Association six months to stop games in “settlements” before deciding whether to suspend Israel or any of its teams.

The panel recommended that FIFA take the decision during its annual congress in Bahrain, scheduled for May 10-11. According to a draft report, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz, the panel recommended that should Israel fail to comply, FIFA would then decide whether to suspend the country or the teams that play in Judea and Samaria from the federation.

Palestinian soccer chief Jibril Rajoub, along with groups such as Human Rights Watch, has led efforts to have Israel suspended from FIFA or for the world body to quit sponsoring Israeli matches in Judea and Samaria, claiming they are being held on “stolen land”.

The Palestinian Authority demands that FIFA’s bylaws, which bar any country from setting up teams in another country’s territory or letting such teams play in its own leagues without the other country’s consent, be applied to Israel.

The six teams in question are located in Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Givat Ze’ev, Oranit and the Jordan Valley.

FIFA has put together a special committee, chaired by South African sports official Tokyo Sexwale, to resolve the issue.

Rajoub had previously 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.

Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev has criticized the Palestinian Authority for politicizing soccer.

The draft report seen by Haaretz doesn't make clear which sanctions FIFA would impose if Israel fails to meet the proposed six-month deadline.

A senior Israeli official said that the worst-case scenario is Israel getting suspended from the federation. Otherwise, FIFA could impose sanctions on the six teams playing in Judea and Samaria.

Israel is trying to thwart a possible vote on the report and its recommendations during the FIFA Congress and last week launched a diplomatic offensive on the matter.