FIFA hails progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks
04 February 2014, 09:14
Geveva - FIFA chief Sepp Blatter on Monday hailed the progress made by Israeli and Palestinian football authorities towards ending disputes over security restrictions on players going to and from the Palestinian territories.
"I'm pleased by the progress made by both associations in the past months," Blatter said in a statement after fresh talks at FIFA's home in the Swiss city of Zurich.
"I remain confident that further important steps will be taken in the near future in order to reach a good solution for the development of football in Israel and Palestine," he added.
In September last year, world football's governing body brokered a landmark meeting between the Palestinian Football Association's president Jibril Rajub and his Israeli opposite number Avi Luzon.
The two men, who football officials said avoided any contact at FIFA congresses, had even shaken hands for the waiting cameras.
They repeated that gesture on Monday, after a meeting that also involved FIFA and the Palestinian and Israelis' respective regional football bodies, the Asian Football Confederation and Europe's UEFA.
The goal of the football-themed peace process is to try to end sharply political disputes over Israeli entry restrictions, such as that on players from Arab nations which led to the delay of an international youth tournament hosted by the Palestinians last year.
In addition, the Palestinians have repeatedly charged that Israeli policies that make it hard for players, coaches, referees, officials and equipment to get in and out, smothering the game's development in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel meanwhile points to the abuse of football facilities by Palestinian militants to fire rockets at its cities and warns that sport has been used as a tool to disseminate anti-Israeli propaganda.
Under the September deal, the two associations named liaison officers to try to stem disputes.
"Both associations provided progress reports and agreed on the fact that the new mechanism had improved communication between them while accelerating the decision-making process concerning the movement of football representatives," FIFA said.
FIFA said that it aimed to have the two sides sign a more formal deal ahead of its congress in June, on the eve of the World Cup, and that Blatter had been invited to visit both Israel and the Palestinian territories in April to meet with political leaders.
While the Palestinians lack broad international recognition for their would-be state, their football association joined FIFA in 1998.
Israel joined in 1929 when it was still under British control, 19 years before independence.
Most Middle East nations are members of the Asian Football Confederation.
But politics have given Israel a rocky road in the international game -- they played in Asia until 1974, then Oceania, before joining UEFA in 1991.