FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s peace-making mission failed on Wednesday after the Palestinian soccer association (PFA) opted to press forward with its plan to ask the 209 member-strong FIFA Congress to suspend Israel at the meeting which follows the FIFA presidential election on May 29.
The PFA claims that restrictions on the freedom of movement over Israeli borders for Palestinian players and officials are unfair, even racist; additionally, it notes that five Israeli teams currently play inside Palestinian borders without the territory’s permission.
Once PFA president Jibril Rajoub brings the matter before the FIFA Congress, each member will get one vote each. According to the AFP, Israel would be suspended from international competitions, including the UEFA Champions League and Euro 2016, if three-quarters of the FIFA Congress votes in favor of the PFA.
On Tuesday, Blatter headed into the region with the intention of resolving the matter by meeting with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, but the AFP reports that the attitude of the PFA has not changed, with Rajoub saying Wednesday: "We are convinced that most FIFA members share our views on the situation and will support our proposal... because racism is one of the greatest dangers that football faces at the present time”.
Meanwhile, Blatter has been outspoken against suspending Israel, claiming that bringing the matter to a vote damages FIFA as an organization and sets a “dangerous precedent” in which soccer and politics become uncomfortably intertwined. "If one association is not happy with the other and claiming whatever they claim, and it is a political matter that cannot be solved by FIFA statutes,” Blatter said Wednesday, adding: "This is not football. That's why I'm on a peace mission."
During the meeting on Wednesday, Blatter and Netanyahu laid out a plan to ameliorate the situation by stationing people at security checkpoints “to facilitate the movement of football people” and to establish a VIP service with ID cards for Palestinian players that lets them move between the West Bank and Gaza more easily. Additionally, a third-party group consisting of Israeli, Palestinian and FIFA representatives would "meet monthly to analyze and monitor the situation." However, Blatter noted that they had not yet come up with a solution to the PFA’s second complaint: that is, the five Israeli teams currently playing inside the West Bank. Blatter described this as "a delicate problem.”
Despite these efforts, the PFA is going ahead with its plan, confident of winning support from many federations within the Congress, notably those based in Africa and Asia, recalling how the Asian Football Conference banned Israel in the mid-1970s.
Israel's soccer association (IFA) was admitted to the Asian Football Conference in 1954, but expelled 20 years later following pressure from Arab and Muslim members. Israel later became part of UEFA. The Middle Eastern country hopes to avoid becoming only the second country ever suspended by FIFA, following apartheid-era South Africa and the former Yugoslavia.