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Netanyahu agrees to Israeli-Palestinian ‘match for peace’ amid football row

Abbas Momani, AFP | Palestinians demonstrate in the centre of the West Bank city of Ramallah, to demand the expulsion of Israel from the world football governing body FIFA, on May 19

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday Israel would consider "certain" measures to help Palestinian football after Palestinian officials asked to get the Israeli association thrown out of world governing body FIFA.

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FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who is on a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, said "a match for peace" would take place between the two sides in the wake of the spat.

Blatter said Netanyahu would attend the game.

"Yes he said that, that if a game will be played between Palestine and Israel and we organise it in Zurich he will be there and he said he would shake hands with everybody," said the 79-year-old Swiss.

"We would be happy, FIFA in Zurich, to accept the organisation of such a competition."

For his part on the wider issue of Palestinian football Netanyahu said "we will discuss a certain number of measures that could improve the situation (of Palestinian football)," without providing details.

Israel Football Association chief Rotem Kamer earlier Tuesday condemned a Palestinian attempt to oust his country from FIFA as "cynical" and counter to the spirit of sport.

Blatter has said the issue is his "challenge number one" ahead of the May 29 FIFA Congress, at which he will also be seeking re-election.

Kamer said that the Palestinian demand had "nothing to do with sports".

"We see it as a clear mix of politics and football, something which should not find a place in the FIFA Congress," he told reporters.

"We believe football in our region should be used as a bridge between people".

‘The differences between the Israelis and the Palestinians threaten [Blatter’s] age-old dream of winning the Nobel Peace Prize’

Palestine, which has been a member of FIFA since 1998, wants the world body to bar Israel from international competition to punish restrictions it places on the movement of Palestinian players.

It also opposes the participation in the Israeli league of five clubs located in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The motion will need a three-quarters majority to be passed at the FIFA Congress in Zurich.

Kamer stressed the IFA has "helped the PFA (Palestine Football Association) in any way it could."

He said regulating the movement of Palestinian players "is not something that is in our hands," and it was security concerns that prevented the entry of a small number of players into Israel.

"I don't see any other football associations in the world telling their governments how to deal with security issues," he said.

The Palestinians are also basing their request for Israel's expulsion on the "racism" against Arabs of some Israeli clubs.

Kamer acknowledged a problem existed but said it was not unique to Israel. He said the authorities had taken harsh steps against Beitar Jerusalem, which has notoriously ultra-nationalist fans.

"Our national teams are combined with Arabs and Jews, we have joint leagues, joint clubs," he said.

Football 'politicised'

Netanyahu criticised the "politicisation" of football, which he said "could cause the deterioration of a remarkable institution".

PFA head Jibril Rajoub rejected Kamer's criticism, saying the demand to expel Israel was "nothing related to politics".

"The suspension of Israel is not our target, our target is to help the Palestinian athletes to move," Rajoub told reporters in Ramallah, speaking in English.

Rajoub said he had met with former Israeli president Shimon Peres on the matter "six times" but they failed to resolve the issue.

"We (will) never accept a compromise. There is no deal outside of FIFA," he said.

Blatter said last week that a successful vote on the Palestinian motion would be a "dangerous" precedent that could get FIFA involved in other political and diplomatic battles.

The FIFA supremo said Tuesday he had agreed with the Israeli leader that a match between Israel and Palestine would go ahead "in future".

"The will is there to organise a football match for peace between the two teams," Blatter told journalists after meeting Netanyahu.

(AFP)

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