When Gianni Infantino became head of FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) last year, he said dealing with issues related to Palestinian football would be one of his priorities. However, many activists who support the Palestinian struggle now believe he failed.
On March 9, a coalition of international and Palestinian organizations denounced and called for the dissolution of the FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine founded in spring 2015. They say the committee, whose purpose was to monitor and act upon violations of FIFA rules in the Palestinian Territories and Israel, failed to achieve one fundamental goal: compelling Israel’s national football league to exclude six football teams based in illegal Israeli settlements –most notably a team in Ma'ale Adumim, one of the largest settlement in the West Bank, located in the sensitive 'E1 corridor' in the outskirts of Jerusalem.
The most visible failure of the committee is that it was supposed to submit an extensive report on various issues concerning Palestinian and Israeli football to the FIFA Council in October 2016 – but never released it.
The Palestinian football leadership has been calling on FIFA to take action about Palestinian players, including from the national team, who have been unable to travel to international games after being denied permits from the Israeli authorities, as well as difficulties for the players to travel even inside the Palestinian territories, be it inside the occupied West Bank where they are often facing road blocks and checkpoints, and therefore delays; or between the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East-Jerusalem, making it difficult to hold the games for a Palestinian championship that would gather all Palestinian teams. Palestinians also argue that the military occupation and status of Area C, where Israeli authorities have to issue permits for anything to be built, prevents Palestinian football from growing as it restrains the ability to build new facilities.
There are other problems in Israel, where Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are sometimes segregated from other citizens of the country in football leagues, and where some Israeli teams have been known for chanting racist slogans in stadiums.
The past few months have seen a very active campaign to expel the 6 Israeli clubs based in West Bank settlements from the national Israeli football league. Asian football's governing body (AFC) has urged FIFA to urgently resolve the problem, as well as organization such as Human Rights Watch, and of course, the Palestinian Football Association.
Under FIFA rules, a national association can operate teams in the territory of another national association only with its consent, which Palestine has never granted to Israel. The fact that those teams are part of the Israeli league contradicts FIFA rules because they are not based in Israel.
By letting settlement teams be part of the Israeli league, FIFA implicitly recognizes settlements – which are illegal under international law. Last December, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted a resolution against settlements.
Resolution 2334 states that Israel's settlement activity constitutes a “flagrant violation" of international law and has "no legal validity". It demands that Israel stop such activity and fulfill its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
A FIFA Council meeting took place on January 10 to discuss these issues. FIFA President Gianni Infantino promised yet again a report by the FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine would be published within a month. But that promise was never fullfilled, and to date, FIFA failed to answer criticism against its apathy.