ZURICH: FIFA’s latest attempt to square the circle of football’s own Palestine-Israel challenge is back under way writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

A new monitoring committee under the chairmanship of veteran South African Tokyo Sexwale was set up at the world football federation’s congress in May, despite complaints from the Palestinian assocoiation.

Delegates from the PFA protested that this was not the precise response they wanted in in exchange for withdrawing a proposal for the suspension of Israel from FIFA membership (even though it was clear it would have been defeated).

'Handshake of peace'? Blatter, Eini, Sexwale and Rajoub

The immediate issue which FIFA has sought to address for several years is Palestinian anger at restrictions on freedom of access by the Israeli security authorities.

Since congress there has been some indication of an easing of restrictions by the Israelis, apparently taken by surprise at the turbulence a sporting issue had raised internationally.

Hence the first meeting of the new monitoring committee in Zurich, comprising representatives from the Israel Football Association and the PFA led by their respective presidents Ofer Eini and Jibril Rajoub. FIFA president Sepp Blatter also attendeed the meeting.

A statement from FIFA said that the meeting “discussed details related to its mandate and clarified its composition, which will include the chairman Tokyo Sexwale, the IFA general secretary Rotem Kamer, the IFA legal counsel Efraïm Barak, the PFA director of the international department Susan Shalabi Molano, the PFA legal counsel Gonzalo Boye and two representatives of the FIFA Congress from CONCACAF, CONMEBOL or the OFC to be designated shortly.”

Sexwale acknowledged afterwards that “this not an easy task” but at least represented “an important first step towards the consolidation of a regular exchange between the football associations of Israel and Palestine.”

‘Team spirit’

He added: “I’m feeling confident after seeing the team spirit today, as both associations have confirmed their intention to promote dialogue. As we have witnessed in my home country South Africa, I’m convinced that here too we’ll bring people together through the power of sport.

The next meeting of the full committee will take place next month in an as-yet-unspecified venue in the Middle East.

The two association leaders both offered diplomatically cautiously observations, well aware of the complexities of the context.

Rajoub said: “I’m very happy to start the process towards finding solutions.” Eini said: “I believe that we will be able to develop a dynamic of cooperation. Both Mr Rajoub and I want fair conditions for our footballers.”

Blatter contributed his own encouraging words, in the certain knowledge that the discussions will continue long beyond the end of his presidency next February 26.

He said: “This is a new era, there is a different feeling in the room with the two associations talking to each other. There was a clear consensus at the congress that a solution should be found. FIFA will continue its tireless efforts to bring both member associations together to reach a solution for the benefit of football in the region.”