UN resolution on Israeli settlements faces its first test in an unlikely place: A FIFA council meeting

Published January 10th, 2017 - 08:55 GMT
Palestinians are prevented by security forces from playing football in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, October 2016 (AFP)
Palestinians are prevented by security forces from playing football in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, October 2016 (AFP)

The UN Security Council resolution 2334, adopted on Dec 23 last year, offered an unprecedented condemnation of Israel’s settlement activity in the Palestinian territories.

The resolution, which was passed unanimously, with one abstention from the United States, called Israel out on a "flagrant violation" of international law that has "no legal validity". It demanded Israel cease settlement activity and respect its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Now, just over two weeks on, this milestone resolution is facing its first test in a surprising domain: today’s FIFA council meeting in Zurich.

In the international football federation’s own rule book, a given national football association must gain permission before holding matches on land under another association’s jurisdiction. Currently, six Israeli teams attached to illegal West Bank settlements play in in contravention of this regulation.

This is not a recent development; the issue has been frequently raised by rights groups before. In September, Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine country director at Human Rights Watch said that: “By holding games on stolen land, FIFA is tarnishing the beautiful game of football,”

“FIFA should step up now to give settlement clubs a red card and insist the Israel Football Association play by the rules,” she added.

What is new now, however, is the strength of international criticism regarding illegal Israeli settlements.

While FIFA may have hesitated previously to take action against the offending clubs, postponing the issue last May and again in October, activists have suggested that today is an opportunity to take a decisive stand. The situation may have been ambiguous before, they argue, but now the UN has uncomplicatedly said that the West Bank is Palestinian land, and that Israeli settlers are there illegally, the issue is clear.

Pro-Palestinian commentators argue that, just as Russia was prevented by the federation from incorporating Crimean football clubs into the Russian league following its annexation of the peninsula in 2014, so should Israel be banned from including these six clubs in its football league.

It remains to be seen, however, whether FIFA will take action, or will shelve the issue once more for fear of stirring controversy. After all, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the UN resolution "anti-Israel" and "shameful."


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