KEIR RADNEDGE in SAO PAULO: World football has thrown responsibility on the Israeli government to commit itself to the attempt to ease the freedom of access issue with Palestine.
A Palestine Football Association threat last year to demand the suspension of Israel over the issue was not pursued at FIFA Congress here today but it took a close-run diplomatic effort to keep football’s own peace process alive.
An independent monitor or committee will be established to oversee the liaison system established last autumn by a FIFA task force led by president Sepp Blatter. It will be charged with reporting back to the executive committee in December.
Blatter had hoped that presidents of the football associations of Palestine and Israel could sign a memorandum of understanding ahead of Congress. But this proved impossible, despite Blatter’s best negotiating efforts last month with both Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Blatter said: “I took up this matter last year with a lot of optimism and i am still optimistic but the problem between Palestine and Israel is a problem of more than 50 years so how could anyone expect that a FIFA delegation could solve this problem in one year?”
Some progress has been made. A FIFA delegation had visited both states twice, Blatter had met political leaders and a liaison mechanism for the transmission of information between the FAs had been established. He told Congress that “the mechanism has shown some positive results; not enough positives, especially on the side of Palestine but there are some positives.”
Hence the proposal for the independent monitor to help the process along.
Israel had appeared to throw an obstacle in the path of the process earlier this week when it denied a travel permit to PFA deputy general-secretary Mohammad Ammassi so he could have left Gaza to travel on via the West Bank to Jordan and on to Brazil. An Israeli official had said Ammassi had failed to follow agreed procedure and submit his request at least 10 days before travelling.
Back in Sao Paulo Blatter, addressing the overall issue, said: “Now we need the full support of the Israeli government in order to facilitate this move and this co-operation is crucial in this matter.”
Insisting that “there is no question of sanctions” Blatter then asked Congress to “call on Israeli government to fully support the implementation of this agreement and especially to facilitate the human relations when entering the territory of Palestine for national or international matches for goods and for persons.”
Blatter’s informal appeal was approved by acclamation.
Jibril Rajoub, the PFA president who had threatened to demand action against Israel, accepted the compromise in the hope of demonstrable progress by the time of next year’s congress in Zurich.
He said: “Two clear messages should come out of this Congress: one to those who caused such suffering that it’s time to stop and one to those who are suffering: Don’t lose hope, the big family of FIFA is with you.
“I hope I can come here next year and say: ‘Let bygones be bygones.’ Now the ball is in the court of others.”