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Palestinians blast FIFA delay on Israeli settlement clubs

In this Sept. 22, 2016 file photo, Jewish settler children watch a soccer training session of the Beitar Shabi Givat Zeev soccer club in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Givat Zeev, near Jerusalem
Associated Press/Ariel Schalit
The FIFA Congress heard from both the Palestinian and Israeli federations before taking the vote

The Palestinian Football Association on Thursday accused FIFA of succumbing to "political pressure" following its decision to postpone a ruling on the contentious issue of Israeli clubs playing in the West Bank.

"We are disappointed that FIFA has decided to allow political pressure to win over the FIFA statutes," it says in a statement, after FIFA's annual Congress voted to back -- by a majority of 73 to 27 percent -- a proposal that pushed football's governing body to report by March 2018.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino said that a decision would come before then, however,  at the next FIFA Council meeting, which takes place in India on October 27.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who phoned the FIFA president on the issue, welcomed the announcement in a video posted on Twitter.

"We've achieved another victory in the battle on our intl (international) standing by foiling an attempt to undermine our standing in @FIFAcom," wrote Netanyahu.

"We'll continue to defend Israel & to strengthen its int'l standing."

The PFA blasted the decision, however, saying in a statement that it was concerned that Infantino "has set a precedent where governments decide the agenda for a FIFA congress, and violations of the statutes and misuse of its legal devices become so common in a way that encourages those who allow football to be used as a tool to normalize oppression."

REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

"We will pursue the matter in the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) because we consider the way in which our proposal was overthrown by Mr. Infantino illegal, and an additional violation of the FIFA Statutes and standing orders of the congress," the statement added.

The PFA argues that the presence of six Israeli clubs on its territory is in breach of FIFA statutes, which forbids another member association playing on another territory without permission.

Israel argues that FIFA rules are unenforceable as there is no permanent border.

The Congress heard from both the Palestinian and Israeli federations before taking the vote.

Palestinian football chief Jibril Rajoub told delegates his association wanted the same rights as others.

"We are not looking for suspension or expulsion but the full recognition of our right that no Israeli clubs play in our territory," he said.

"None of you will accept that any clubs play in your territory. The issue has now been presented to five separate Congresses."

JACK GUEZ (AFP)

However, Ofer Eini of the Israeli association, said the PFA was looking for a political solution.

"The sole purpose is to establish the political boundaries," he told the Congress.

"This is outside the authority of FIFA to establish borders. What are you trying to stop five or six teams of children from playing football? Will that resolve the Palestinian problem?"

A FIFA commission chaired by South Africa's Tokyo Sexwale has presented several potential solutions and a fresh report was handed to the FIFA Council on Wednesday, said Infantino, without giving further details.

Following the decision, campaign group Avaaz said the FIFA president had been "bullied" by Israel.

"FIFA has failed and football has lost again," said Fadi Quran, senior campaigner with Avaaz.

In a press conference after the Congress finished, Infantino admitted it was a "sensitive issue" and noted that the new American leadership said it is was trying to find a peace settlement.

"Hopefully President Trump can find a solution. If he has any good ideas, I am happy take them on board," he said.

See also:

- Palestinian football chief hits out at Netanyahu over West Bank clubs

- Netanyahu calls FIFA chief over possible West Bank settlement team ban

- Israel campaigns to prevent FIFA suspension of West Bank settlement soccer teams

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