The Palestinian Football Association (PFA) is seeking a FIFA ban on their Israeli counterparts after years of seeing football flounder under occupation.
But would such a move solve anything?
Israel currently illegally occupies the West Bank, East Jerusalem and exerts a blockade on the Gaza Strip. It makes working at the PFA quite difficult. Restrictions on players moving in, out and between the Palestinian territories are among the many problems it faces while trying to develop the sport under occupation. This is in addition to the reported shooting of young footballers by Israeli security forces.
FIFA recognises the problem and set up a task force last year with the aim of signing an agreement by both and getting the issue resolved ahead of this June’s FIFA Congress in Sao Paolo. But if the deal does not meet expectations, the PFA plans to launch an audacious bid to get Israel expelled from FIFA.
“If the Israeli occupation is unwilling to budge from its racist policies and if all the good efforts of FIFA, UEFA, and the AFC fail, we will find ourselves compelled to put the matter to the congress,” PFA Chairman Jibril Rajoub told Al Jazeera.
Despite the threat, the Israelis believe things are moving forward. An Israel Football Association (IFA) spokesperson confirmed to Al Jazeera that ‘the IFA deals in full cooperation with FIFA on the topic and in the last few months, there has been an improvement in the work relations’.
For the PFA, Israel’s expulsion is not their aim, just a last resort. But the fact that there are talks of that happening suggests how far from reaching an agreements both sides are. But would getting Israel expelled fix any of PFA’s problems?
Since this is a security matter, negotiation with the football association will not work. Only threats and pressure will force the Israeli government to take action
In addition to the restrictions of player movements, coaches and officials face the same problems, according to the PFA, with Israel’s security forces accusing the Palestinians of using football to hide the movement of weapons and militants.
There is also the issue of player safety – earlier this year, two young Palestinian players were reportedly shot in the feet by Israeli security forces. Their football career ended there.
The PFA also alleges that Israel constantly interferes in bids to set up international friendlies.
While an expulsion may not improve these conditions, it might be the only way to bring a change, according to Uzi Dann, the international sports editor of Haaretz, an Israel newspaper, who told Al Jazeera that the move will not ‘benefit Palestine in the short term’.
“It won’t solve the movement problem right away,” Dann said. “From my experience, only threats and pressure can solve this problem. Since this is a security matter, negotiation with the football association will not work. Only threats and pressure will force the Israeli government to take action.
“They don’t take the matter seriously right now but they will once the expulsion is on the horizon.”
At the core of this dispute is the issue surrounding the right to play the game. Occupation heavily impedes this. But if the Palestinians get Israel expelled, it will be the Israel players who suffer.
Dann believes that although that would be unfair, it is perhaps necessary.
“It won’t be fair on the players and it would make mass outrage in Israel. But sometimes, the way to get something done is to punish people.”
Room to flourish
There is also the view that the only way for Palestinian football to flourish is through political liberation and a FIFA expulsion is big a step towards that.
That’s the position of Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights activist and co-founder of the BDS movement, which pushes for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
He told Al Jazeera that ‘expelling Israel from FIFA, as well as from international academic, cultural and economic associations, effectively shatters their criminal impunity and contributes to the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality’.
Barghouti likens the situation to an Apartheid South Africa, which was banned from FIFA in 1961, and that ‘international isolation, especially in sports, was a key factor in ending Apartheid’ and having the country reinstated.
It is unclear what will happen between now and the FIFA congress – which opens on June 10. FIFA President Sepp Blatter is due in the Middle East to meet major political figures on both sides to conjure up a deal. The Palestinians are unlikely to be holding their breath and a push for the expulsion seems likely.
The only way to know whether it will achieve anything or not might be to try it.
What is for sure, however, is that no country would enjoy the humiliation of being red carded from the beautiful game.