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Palestinian football chief hits out at Netanyahu over West Bank clubs

Manama (AFP) – Any attempt by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pressure FIFA over the issue of Israeli clubs in the West Bank was unprecedented, Palestinian football chief Jibril Rajoub said Monday.

Rajoub, speaking after the Asian Football Confederation’s congress in Bahrain, was responding to media reports that Netanyahu had personally telephoned FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

The reports further claimed that Netanyahu had urged the FIFA boss to halt world football’s governing body discussing possible sanctions against six Israeli clubs from West Bank settlements at its annual congress later this week.

“What happened yesterday, the Israeli prime minister called Infantino and asked him to delete this item from the agenda of FIFA,” said Rajoub.

“This has no precedent in the history of football.”

He continued: “He phoned Infantino. I am sure that Mr Infantino is not working for Mr Netanyahu, he was elected by FIFA and he represents the interests of FIFA.”

The contentious issue of the clubs threatens to cast a shadow over FIFA’s congress, which takes place on May 11, also in Bahrain.

The Palestine Football Association argues that the presence of six Israeli clubs on its territory is in breach of FIFA statutes, which forbids another member association playing on another territory without permission. 

Israel argues that FIFA rules are unenforceable as there is no permanent border.

A FIFA commission chaired by South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale presented several potential solutions in a report in March, but these were rejected by Rajoub.

On Monday, the AFC president, Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa, told the congress that the confederation would “always be hand-in-hand with our brothers” in the Palestinian territories.

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