International football’s governing body has announced that it will not take a position on the future of six Israeli football clubs based in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.
FIFA representatives met in Kolkata, India, on Friday and cited the “exceptional complexity and sensitivity” and “political” nature of the subject.
“Given that the final status of the West Bank territories is the concern of the competent international public law authorities, the FIFA Council agrees that FIFA, in line with the general principle established in its Statutes, must remain neutral with regard to political matters,” FIFA said in a statement.
“Furthermore, it was agreed that any interference by FIFA in the status quo of football in the relevant territories without the consent of the parties concerned might aggravate the situation of football not only in the territories in question, but also in the greater region affected – which would not be in the best interests of the game.”
As a consequence, the body noted, FIFA would refrain “refrain from imposing any sanctions”. It has declared the matter closed.
The Palestine Football Association (PFA) had been campaigning FIFA to force the relocation of the clubs since 2015. The clubs are located in settlements considered illegal under international law, which is in breach of FIFA statutes.
PFA President Jibril Rajoub previously said that he was not seeking the expulsion of Israel from FIFA, but rather for Israel to abide by international regulations.
“We want to stop all football and football-related activity run by the Israeli federation in Palestine’s internationally recognised territories,” he said.
Speaking about Friday’s decision not to take action, Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, said: “There should be nothing political about deciding to follow one’s own rules.
“With today’s decision, FIFA has decided to continue sponsoring games in illegal Israeli settlements, in contempt of international law and contrary to its professed commitment to human rights.”
In a statement, Fadi Quran, a senior campaigner in Palestine for the civic organisation, Avaaz, said that FIFA’s failure to act means that thousands of Palestinian children are being “robbed of the chance to play the game they love on land that’s theirs.”
“If FIFA won’t do its job and won’t respect its own statutes and international law, then the courts will force it to do so,” he said.
FIFA has postponed the issue at least four times in the past two years, forcing the PFA to take the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in May.
A special monitoring committee, appointed by FIFA in 2015, was tasked to resolve the issue within a year – but the mandate was extended in October 2016, January 2017 and March 2017.
The six teams are based in the Jewish settlements of Kiryat Arba, Givat Zeev, Maale Adumim, Ariel, Oranit and Tomer.