When FIFA—the international governing body for soccer—held its annual congress in Bahrain last week, the Palestinian Authority hoped it would discuss whether six West Bank-based Israeli teams are in violation of the organization’s rules for playing on “Palestinian” territory without permission from the Palestinian Football League (PFA). The item was removed from the congress’s agenda at the last minute, but Simon Smith argues that the issue is bound to resurface, and more than sports is at stake:
The . . . PFA will no doubt push FIFA to make a decision [about the status of the West Bank leagues] in the future. The problem for FIFA is that whatever it decides will have huge ramifications. . . . A ruling in favor of the PFA would represent a significant international body defining the territory of a Palestinian state, which no doubt is the intention of the PFA’s four-year-long campaign to have this item on the agenda. [Yet] a ruling in Israel’s favor would be interpreted by many as an acknowledgment that the six settlements [where these clubs are located] are part of sovereign Israeli territory. FIFA would like to do neither, and yet if the item is ever brought to a vote, [delegates] are caught in a zero-sum game where they have to make a choice.
Should FIFA rule against Israel, the likely reprimand will be a six-month window to remove the clubs from the Israeli league system or face suspension from FIFA and the removal of Israel’s national soccer team from competitive matches such as World Cup Qualifying.
However, compliance would be perhaps more significant still. If the PFA can remove the settlement’s soccer clubs through FIFA, it might give more impetus to the greater Palestinian aspiration of removing the settlements themselves through the UN. We are potentially seeing a microcosm of the Palestinian strategy to internationalize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and once again shirk bilateral negotiations, through the prism of soccer.