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FIFA puts off call on disputed Israeli clubs

Zurich (AFP) – Palestinian hopes that FIFA would get tough on Israel were muted Friday when world football’s governing body put off a decision on Israeli clubs based in settlements in the occupied West Bank. 

The Palestine Football Association this week called on FIFA to either expel the six clubs in settlements, which are illegal under international law, or relocate them within Israel’s recognised borders. 

The issue had been on the agenda at a meeting of the powerful FIFA Council, with world football’s president Gianni Infantino describing sporting tensions on the contested land as one of his “top priorities”.

But FIFA’s envoy to the region, South African powerbroker Tokyo Sexwale, said he was unable to deliver a final report to the council because his committee “was not able to meet”.

He said the full report should be ready next month. 

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan welcomed the postponement, writing on his Facebook page that “we were successful in blocking another Palestinian attempt to ban Israeli football teams from FIFA.” 

In a posting from Thursday, Erdan called on FIFA and “all supporters of the ban to leave politics out of football!”

Human Rights Watch said Infantino should set forth “a timeline for deciding whether FIFA will stop sponsoring matches on land that has been illegally seized from Palestinians.”

And Fadi Quran of the campaign group Avaaz said on Friday that despite Israel’s attempts to have the issue “thrown out,” FIFA has no choice but to “ensure that these teams are relocated off stolen Palestinian land.”

Infantino, who took charge of FIFA in February, told reporters he would visit the region “when (his presence) would have an impact and when there has been progress”.

FIFA has asked both sides to attend a meeting next month, “with an open, constructive spirit to find a solution for football”.

“We are not a political body and we are not trying to solve political problems,” he added at the close of the two-day council meet. 

“The situation with the six clubs remains open. We’ll let the commission work.”

Wilfried Lemke, the special advisor to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on sport and peace, wrote to FIFA last week voicing support for the Palestinian case. 

The Israel Football Association has accused the Palestinians of dragging sport “from the football field into a political one,” saying it wants to develop the game as a “bridge connecting people and not as a wall that divides them”.

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