The head of Asian soccer has praised FIFA for bringing Israeli and Palestinian soccer chiefs together in a drive to end a bitter row over the Jewish state’s security measures.
The heads of the two soccer associations shook hands on Tuesday in landmark talks in Switzerland brokered by the game’s world governing body.
It came just weeks after a politically charged dispute over Israeli entry restrictions on players from Arab nations, which led to the delay of a youth tournament hosted by the Palestinian Football Association (PFA).
The Palestinian territories come under the umbrella of the Malaysia-headquartered Asian Football Confederation (AFC), whose reach extends into the Arab world.
AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa expressed hope that the talks would result in the Palestinians hosting future competitions.
“I hope that both the associations will work towards a bilateral solution to this issue and AFC will no longer have to face the issue of movement of players and officials to and from Palestine in the future,” he said in a statement released late on Tuesday.
“I would like to thank FIFA president [Sepp] Blatter for this initiative and would like to see Palestine host more AFC competitions in the future,” he said.
Blatter described the closed-door meeting between PFA president Jibril Rajub and his Israeli opposite Avi Luzon as “historic.”
The PFA has said the security restrictions were hampering the movement of Arab players and smothering development of the game in the Palestinian territories.
It had earlier called on FIFA to suspend Israel from international soccer over the issue.
Israel says soccer facilities are sometimes used by Palestinian militants to fire rockets at its cities and warns that sport has been used as a tool to disseminate anti-Israeli propaganda.
“The basic problem in the region is the security problem of Israel and the fact that Palestine is recognized as a full member of FIFA, but is not yet recognised as a full member of the United Nations,” Blatter said.
FIFA created a task force in July to address the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Shaikh Salman, a Bahraini, said he hoped the two soccer governing bodies could reach an agreement by next month.
For political reasons, Israel have had a rocky road in international soccer, having played in Asia until 1974, then Oceania, before joining UEFA in 1991.