FIFA to monitor Israeli, Palestinian soccer; bid to suspend Israel dropped

FIFA to monitor Israeli, Palestinian soccer; bid to suspend Israel dropped
Palestinian Football Assn. President Jibril Rajoub, left, and Israeli Football Assn. chief Ofer Eini, shake hands after a contentious debate Friday over soccer events in disputed territory during the 65th FIFA Congress in Zurich, Switzerland. (Walter Bieri / Associated Press)

FIFA on Friday agreed to monitor Israeli and Palestinian soccer after Palestinians dropped a bid to suspend Israel from the international association, part of a compromise that followed some tense moments.

The Palestinian Football Assn. had introduced a motion to suspend Israel from FIFA because it said the country was not allowing free movement of players and equipment in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel has said the restrictions are for security.


The initiative had prompted about 50 pro-Palestinian protesters to turn up outside the Zurich hall where FIFA's annual Congress was being held, as well as a small disruption from a protester in the room at the start of the event.

The motion appeared to be dropped after Palestinian Football Assn. leader Jibril Rajoub and Israeli association chief Ofer Eini met with FIFA President Sepp Blatter during a break.

But Rajoub later asked for the floor to discuss a condemnation of Israel, which morphed into a motion that would require a FIFA-appointed monitoring committee for Israeli and Palestinian soccer. He also pressed for a United Nations review of five Israeli clubs that play in occupied territory.

A somewhat chaotic series of events occurred.

First Rajoub spoke: "I think it's time to raise the red card for racism and discrimination," he said, taking out the penalty signifier. Then the Israeli delegation asked for the floor. Blatter at first declined, then relented after consulting with an expert on FIFA bylaws. Eini said he thought soccer could be a "bridge to peace" but objected to the request for U.N. intervention.

Blatter then tried to move to a vote, but Rajoub asked to speak again. Blatter eventually allowed the rebuttal, and the Palestinian leader used it to press the argument for sending the case of the five clubs to the U.N.--a sensitive issue for FIFA, which tries to stay above political disagreements.

After some back and forth, Blatter held his ground. The U.N. issue was off the table.

The Palestinian association relented, and the room moved to a vote on the proposal to monitor soccer-related activity in the region, which passed by a 90% yes vote. Rajoub and Eini then shook hands, defusing a contentious situation.

Some Palestinians, though, were upset by Friday's developments.

"It was a very disappointing move," said Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian lawmaker and founder of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel movement. "It was a mistake to withdraw the proposal, because nothing has changed in the attitude of Israel."

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised what he described as "our international effort" to prevent a suspension from FIFA.

"This Palestinian provocation joins the unilateral steps that the Palestinians are taking at other international institutions," Netanyahu said in a statement. "So long as they take these steps they will only push peace further away instead of bringing it closer."

Barghouti said the Palestinians must have come under immense pressure to withdraw their proposal. However, he added, "we should have withstood this pressure."

Special correspondent Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.