The soccer world’s governing body is threatening to expel Israel unless it eases restrictions on Palestinian players. The organisation has given Israel until the summer to comply.
Although Israel maintains that Palestinian players and officials have now have improved access to move in and out of the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian Football Association has said that will push for Israel’s expulsion unless all restrictions were lifted.
Speaking to the website INSIDEworldfootball, Israel Football Association chief executive Rotem Kemer, said: “We don’t think this is right. It has never been the policy of FIFA and UEFA to mix politics and sport. We are making our best efforts in order to help the Palestinian association. We are trying to make things easier for them.”
Remaining optimistic, he added: “I don’t think we will be expelled from FIFA because we are making good progress with the Palestinians. I would say we are on the right track.”
Israel has previously accused the Palestinians of using football to hide the movement of terrorists and their equipment.
FIFA have now set up a mediation task force to try to resolve the dispute, and the representatives from the Israeli and Palestinian associations have met with FIFA president Sepp Blatter. Blatter wants the Israelis and Palestinians to sign a formal cooperation agreement by June, but the Palestinians have indicated they may refuse unless travel restrictions are lifted.
Earlier this year, two teenage Palestinian footballers were shot and wounded by Israeli security forces, something that was taken up by FIFA vice-president Ali bin al-Hussein, who is also a Jordanian prince.
If Israel were expelled, it would no longer be able to compete in major international tournaments, such as the lucrative World Cup.