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Monday, May 18, 2015

Can FIFA's Blatter prevent Israel's suspension from international soccer? (JMD on Al Jazeera America)


Analysis: New front emerges in the diplomatic battle as 
Palestinians demand world soccer body ban Israel
May 18, 2015 5:00AM ET
Winning a fifth term in office will be a cakewalk for FIFA’s
oft-criticized president Sepp Blatter, when measured against
the challenges posed to him by the looming Israeli-Palestinian
showdown in world soccer’s governing body. Blatter is
expected to travel to the Middle East ahead of FIFA’s May
29 congress, hoping to forge a compromise between the
two rival soccer associations to head off the Palestine Football Association’s (PFA) bid to have Israel suspended from the
international body. But he could struggle to keep the 
The Palestinian resolution — which could gain significant
support among member associations — is rooted in years
of failed FIFA efforts to work out a mechanism between the
Palestinian and Israeli soccer associations to address
complaints that Israel’s occupation regime impedes the
development of the Palestinian game, as well as
accusations of racism in Israeli soccer. 
The move clearly coincides with mounting efforts to build
international pressure on Israel’s occupation now that the
peace process is dormant. The movement to promote 
boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) borrows heavily
from the tactics used to pressure apartheid South Africa in
the 1970s and ‘80s, and countering it is an Israeli
government priority.
Palestinian soccer officials argue that previous FIFA-mediated
agreements with the Israel Football Association (IFA) that
involved regular consultations and a hotline to resolve
problems facing Palestinian footballers at Israeli military
checkpoints in the West Bank have failed because the IFA
has no influence on Israeli security policies. Those
problems are largely related to the freedom of movement
of players between Gaza and the West Bank — and
within the West Bank itself — as well as on visiting
foreign teams, particularly ones from the Middle East
and Muslim countries.
Ironically, perhaps, Israeli diplomats lobbying against
the Palestinian resolution and the IFA itself in a meeting
with Blatter earlier this month have echoed that argument,
saying the Israeli soccer body should not be held
accountable for restrictions on Palestinian football that
are not under its control.
The argument that the IFA should not be punished for
the occupation is unlikely to impress PFA President
Jibril Rajoub, a former West Bank security chief who
spent years in Israeli prison and who sees sports as a
vehicle to help end the occupation and achieve Palestinian
statehood. Rajoub expects support from a significant
number of FIFA member associations in Africa and
Asia, as well as at least some European associations
that have long been critical of Israeli policies towards
the Palestinians. He’ll need three quarters of the
international body’s 209 members to carry the day.
The IFA, of course, is unable to influence security
policy, but that may not sway the argument for
suspension of the national soccer association of the
occupying power whose policies impede Palestinian
soccer. And other elements of the Palestinian case
could resonate with many in FIFA. These include
assertions of racism in Israeli soccer despite the fact
that Palestinian citizens are among Israel’s top players,
and the IFA’s inclusion of clubs from the Israeli
settlements deemed illegal under international law
by the U.N. Security Council. The Palestinians argue
that including those clubs in the league effectively
amounts to IFA endorsement of Israeli policy on the
West Bank.
The IFA prides itself on being the only Middle Eastern
soccer body to have an anti-racism program, and it has
repeatedly slapped the knuckles of Israeli teams that
have violated antidiscrimination codes — particularly
Beitar Jerusalem, which is notorious for its racist fan
base and refusal to hire Palestinians. The IFA has not,
however, imposed sanctions of sufficient strength to
dissuade Beitar from maintaining its discriminatory
policies and its tolerance of fans who wear racism
as a badge of honor.
The FIFA vote could be the first major litmus test of a
Palestinian campaign to isolate Israel in international
organizations since the breakdown of U.S.-sponsored
peace talks and last summer’s 
Ironically, FIFA was the first international organization to
recognize Palestine when it admitted the PFA in 1998 —
joining Scotland, Wales, England, Northern Ireland and
Hong Kong, among others, as members that are not
internationally recognized sovereign nation states.
The PFA’s bid to get Israel suspended from FIFA is
closely connected with the wider effort to isolate Israel
over its policies towards the Palestinians, and its
prospects will depend on the extent of support for that
The BDS movement was buoyed earlier this month
when the Brazilian government decided not to move
forward with a $2.2 billion contract with Israeli company
International Security and Defense Systems (ISDS).
The decision followed the cancellation late last year
by the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul of a contract
with Israeli company Elbit Systems to develop a major
aerospace research center. Both decisions were made
 as a result of campaigns by BDS activists.
Even if the PFA fails this time around, many Israelis
believe the writing is on the wall.
“Whether or not the Palestinians win the vote is only
secondary to the realization that this is just the beginning
of the Palestinians’ diplomatic efforts to impose sanctions
on Israel. The issue is not football or the freedom of
movement of soccer players,” wrote Gershom Baskin in
the Jerusalem Post.
“The issue is much larger and will continue to emerge on
the international stage on which Israel is now being targeted.
The issue is of course the continuation of the occupation and
Israel’s refusal to recognize the Palestinians’ right to
self-determination in an independent state of their own
next to Israel.”

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