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FIFA to rule on Israel settlement clubs in October

Manama (AFP) – FIFA will rule on the issue of Israeli clubs playing in the West Bank in October, president Gianni Infantino said on Thursday, once again delaying a decision on the contentious issue.

FIFA’s annual Congress voted to back — by a majority of 73 to 27 percent – a proposal that pushed football’s governing body to report by March 2018, but Infantino said feedback would come before then.

“We will take responsibility and we will take a decision on this matter,” he said.

He said a decision would be made at the next FIFA Council meeting, which takes place in India on October 27.

The Palestine Football Association (PFA) 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.

The Congress heard from both the Palestinian and Israeli federations before taking the vote.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who phoned the FIFA president on the issue, welcomed the announcement in a video posted on Twitter.

“We’ve achieved another victory in the battle on our intl (international) standing by foiling an attempt to undermine our standing in @FIFAcom,” wrote Netanyahu.

“We’ll continue to defend Israel & to strengthen its int’l standing.”

But the PFA blasted the decision.

“We are disappointed that FIFA has decided to allow political pressure to win over the FIFA statutes,” the PFA said in a statement.

“We fear Mr. Infantino’s action of today has set a precedent where governments decide the agenda for a FIFA congress, and violations of the statutes and misuse of its legal devices become so common in a way that encourages those who allow football to be used as a tool to normalize oppression.

“We will pursue the matter in the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) because we consider the way in which our proposal was overthrown by Mr. Infantino illegal, and an additional violation of the FIFA Statutes and standing orders of the congress.”

Palestinian football chief Jibril Rajoub told delegates his association wanted the same rights as others.

“We are not looking for suspension or expulsion but the full recognition of our right that no Israeli clubs play in our territory,” he said.

“None of you will accept that any clubs play in your territory.”

The issue has now been presented to five separate Congresses.

However, Ofer Eini of the Israeli association, said the PFA was looking for a political solution.

“The sole purpose is to establish the political boundaries,” he told the Congress.

“This is outside the authority of FIFA to establish borders.

“What are you trying to stop five or six teams of children from playing football? Will that resolve the Palestinian problem?”

A FIFA commission chaired by South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale has presented several potential solutions and a fresh report was handed to the FIFA Council on Wednesday, said Infantino, without giving further details.

Following the decision, campaign group Avaaz said the FIFA president had been “bullied” by Israel.

“FIFA has failed and football has lost again,” said Fadi Quran, senior campaigner with Avaaz.

In a press conference after the Congress finished, Infantino admitted it was a “sensitive issue” and noted that the new American leadership said it was trying to find a peace settlement.

“Hopefully President Trump can find a solution. If he has any good ideas, I am happy to take them on board,” he said.

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