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FIFA settler spat may present an opportunity to build bridges

Copyrights: TrickyH, Wikimedia Creative Commons Licence

FIFA settler spat may present an opportunity to build bridges

It's disappointing FIFA has so far chosen not to lead on the issue of Israeli settlement teams playing in Palestinian West Bank. This is a real opportunity for the beleaguered overseer to take a stance, especially as it appears doing so would simply be by enforcing its own rules.

The issue has been brought to a head by the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) who has asked football administrators in Zurich to adjudicate on the claim that teams of Israeli settlers - who are illegally occupying Palestinian land - contravene FIFA's Article 72(2) that seeks to deny any team playing in another sovereign space without the permission of that country.

That it has come to this point appears to suggest that this dispute, like so many before it in this context, has been quickly identified as one which can be used to score wider political points.

Taking such a reflexive and adversarial approach - and both Palestinian and Israeli political leaders can surely be accused of this - is unlikely to lead to a sustainable outcome. One side will have to back down, lose face and/or accept defeat. None are likely to do so now, as has been the case for the last six decades. This suggests the issue needs to be addressed by a third party, a role FIFA should be able to fulfil.

However, it appears that FIFA cannot implement Article 72(2) without serious damage to its position. The global Israeli lobby, rousing up its many and powerful supporters, would likely cause football's world body so many headaches. Stepping in as the PFA has asked would be logistically untenable. The PFA clearly knows this would be putting FIFA in an impossible position.

Or so it seems. Perhaps FIFA has an "out".

Those who understand the Israeli-Palestinian situation will know that relations between settlers (indeed their very presence) and Palestinians is one of its hottest flash points.

In this case, the legal spat presents an opportunity to break down some of those walls, using the healing and bridging power of football/soccer to do so.

The basics of this issue, beyond the politics, is that there are six teams of Israeli settlers who want to play football. Allowing them to compete as Israeli teams, as the PFA claims, offers a degree of legitimacy to their status in the West Bank which is unacceptable. This is understandable.

But, the desire to play football can become a catalyst for positive change. For instance, FIFA could fund a cross-border tournament or competition, between Israeli settlers and West Bank Palestinians.

Lest this be seen as offering succour to illegal settlers in the West Bank, all games could be conducted in Israel-proper, or on neutral ground (or as close to that as can be said to be so in this part of the world) in a third country. Both IFA and the PFA could work together to facilitate transport and logistics under the auspices of FIFA.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016 - 00:00