TEL AVIV – A Palestinian previously convicted of multiple terrorism charges is the official currently leading the dialogue with a prestigious international soccer federation from which the Palestinian Authority is seeking to get Israel expelled.
If the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, suspends or boots the Jewish state, the move would have a dramatic impact on Israel’s ability to compete in international soccer competitions.
As part of a larger boycott movement against Israel, the PA’s Palestinian Soccer Association has filed a formal complaint with FIFA to have Israel’s membership suspended.
The PA’s main complaint is that Israel does not allow freedom of movement for Palestinian soccer players to travel from the West Bank to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip through Israel.
The Israeli government says it would be a security risk to allow any Palestinian soccer player to travel freely from the West Bank or Gaza within Israel, explaining terrorists could easily take advantage of any such accommodation.
The PA further wants FIFA to suspend five Israeli soccer clubs located in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which the Palestinians claim for a future state. The five clubs play in the third and fourth FIFA divisions.
The Palestinian Soccer Association wants the matter put to a vote during FIFA’s next annual congress, where three-quarters of the 209 member federations would have to vote to expel Israel. The FIFA congress meets at the end of the month.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has been leading the talks on the matter with both the PA and Israel. He is reportedly due in Israel and the Palestinian territories in the coming days to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas on the issue.
Blatter has repeatedly held dialogue with the heads of the Palestinian and Israeli soccer associations.
Sentenced to life in prison
The PA’s Palestinian Soccer Association chairman is Jibril Rajoub, a former top aide to the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat and the past leader of several major Palestinian militias. Rajoub has been serving as the point man between the PA and FIFA.
In 1970, Rajoub was sentenced by Israel to life in prison after he was arrested and convicted of throwing a grenade at an Israeli army bus near Hebron. Part of his conviction was because of his membership in a Fatah-associated terrorist organization.
He was released from incarceration in 1985 as part of a prisoner exchange with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which had kidnapped three Israelis.
Less than two years after his release, Rajoub was arrested and convicted two more times on terrorism-related charges, including membership in Fatah terrorist cells and planning attacks.
He was deported to Lebanon in 1998, where he quickly became a top adviser to Fatah deputy leader Khalil al-Wazir, who at the time was coordinating an anti-Israel intifada.
Head of Arafat’s ‘security force’
After Wazir’s death, Rajoub became a close associate and adviser to Arafat. Rajoub returned with Arafat to the West Bank after the signing of the 1994 Oslo Accords, which established cantons of territory to be governed by Arafat’s PLO.
Rajoub became head of Arafat’s Preventive Security Force, which was repeatedly implicated in attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers. Many members of the Preventive group doubled as members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Fatah’s so-called military wing.
The brigade is a terrorist organization responsible for scores of suicide bombings, shootings, stabbings and other deadly attacks on Jews.
Aside from his soccer duties, Rajoub heads the Palestine Olympic Committee. In June 2012, he protested a request for a moment of silence to remember the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists during the 1972 Munich Olympics, calling the request “racist”
Rajoub said in a statement it is “clear that the Israeli Soccer Association is not willing to recognize the PFA as a federation with equal rights and obligations, just as they continue to violate their commitments made before FIFA.”
“We are therefore determined to continue our path to suspend the Israeli Soccer Association during the next FIFA Congress,” he said.
Israeli Soccer Association Chief Ofer Eini called the Palestinian request to suspend Israel “an attempt to mix politics and sport, and there is no place for this within FIFA.”
“It is clear to me that most FIFA members understand very well the intention behind this Palestinian move and the destructive impact it would have on the agency,” Eini said.