KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING — Sepp Blatter hosts a two-way summit in Zurich today in a last-minute bid to avert a FIFA Congress showdown between Palestine and Israel on May 29.
Blatter, the FIFA president who has struggled to reach a resolution over the long-running freedom of movement dispute, is sitting between Jibil Rajoub and Ofer Eini, respective heads of the Palestinian and Israeli football federations.
Rajoub has registered a proposal on the FIFA Congress agenda demanding the suspension of Israel while Eini has insisted that his association has done all it can but has no control over the policies and activities of the Israeli security service.
Last week Eini flew to Switzerland to engage the support of Michel Platini, the president of UEFA. Israel is a member of the European federation while Palestine is a member of the Asian Football Confederation. Eini then returned, along with chief executive Rotem Kamer, to plead the Israeli case with Blatter.
Eini reportedly told Blatter, during their meeting: “This request in FIFA congress is not only a disgrace for Israel and for the IFA, but also a disgrace for you and for FIFA.”
Blatter reiterated his position that any member association fulfilling its statutory duties should not be suspended and indicated that, as far as he was aware, this applied to the IFA.
Eini has also written to the presidents of all the world’s 209 football federations urging them to reject the Palestinian resolution.
Sunday’s meeting is possibly the last chance for Blatter to head off a bitterly divisive vote on the floor of FIFA Congress.
Rajoub will be hard to persuade. He spoke out against Israel at FIFA Congress in Mauritius in 2013 and warned, in Sao Paulo last year, that he was ready to return with a proposal demanding Israel’s suspension from world football.
He cannot keep stepping back from the brink without major concessions by the Israelis.
Ahead of the meeting Rajoub said: “We will make use of every possible venue in order to protect Palestinian footballers and their right to benefit from the rights and fulfil the obligations stipulated in the FIFA statutes.
“Our call to suspend the Israeli Football Association from FIFA comes after nearly three years of a failed mechanism to secure meaningful and substantial commitments from the Israeli side, where oppression and discrimination against Palestinian sports in general, and football in particular, have remained unchanged.
“Meanwhile, the Israeli Football Association has elected to rationalize away the crimes of the occupation. We are therefore determined to continue our path to suspend the Israeli Football Association during the next FIFA Congress, this May 29.
“The Israeli Football Association (IFA) is part of the oppressive Israeli occupation and therefore, an accomplice in its apartheid policies.
“Rather than solve the problem, the Israeli Association has tried every possible venue to justify Israel’s Apartheid policies. FIFA has been made aware of these issues first hand through the three years of its attempts to find a solution which sadly reached a dead end.
“I have accepted an invitation to meet with FIFA president, Mr. Sepp Blatter, to discuss these matters. As head of the PFA, I will ensure we take every precaution to protect Palestinian footballers and do everything within our power to protect their rights under, and fulfill our obligations of, all FIFA statutes.”
Eini will respond by pointing out that – however slowly – progress is being achieved.
He will point to the IFA’s decision to penalise Beitar Jerusam, whose fans are the most notoriously discriminatory in the league, two league points for their latest outburst.
Also, the Israeli security service has also approved all permits for players and officials of the Bahraini club Al-Hidd to enter the West Bank through Israel for the AFC Cup group game against Wadi A-Ness.