The Palestine Football Association (PFA) has been campaigning since 2015 for the relocation of six Israeli football clubs based in the illegal Jewish settlements spread across the occupied West Bank. The approaches to FIFA, football’s world governing body, were a major step down from the original intention to have Israel suspended from the international football arena. Jibril Ragoub, a PA official and head of the PFA, said that dropping the suspension bid “does not mean that I give up the resistance.”
In October 2017, according to Al-Jazeera, FIFA deemed the request to be too complex, and added that the organisation, “in like with the general principle established in its Statutes, must remain neutral with regard to political matters.”
Last Tuesday, during a meeting in Algiers, Rajoub accused FIFA’s President, Gianni Infantino, of “capitulating to the will and influence of Israel” in refusing to act on the PA’s request. According to the Times of Israel, Rajoub cited a violation of Article 72.2 of FIFA’s statute which states that clubs cannot play “on the territory of another member association without the latter’s approval.”
While making legitimate complaints, though, the PA cannot expect to be taken seriously. If FIFA capitulated to Israeli demands, which is a recurring trend for international organisations, the PA is enhancing such capitulation through its function as a willing tool of the colonial oppression that Palestinians face daily.
In their rhetoric, PA officials have dissected the repercussions of colonial expansion; the results are isolated struggles which are voiced by the entity that has ceded more land to Israel under the cloak of “peace” negotiations. Football is one such issue; the labelling of settlement products is another. In adapting the tactics of the international community by picking one issue and emphasising it above all others, there is no comprehensive approach to take a stance against Israeli violations. The PA is fond of taking up struggles that steal the limelight temporary due to their popularity, while backing out, or capitulating, to external demands when it comes to other issues which would have had more of an impact on Israel.
Furthermore, coming from an entity which depends upon the same for survival, the argument about capitulation renders Rajoub’s argument invalid. The PA is not building its discourse upon a platform that prioritises Palestinian rights. Rather, it is exploiting issues related to colonial expansion in a way that detracts from the political violence of settlements.
It is interesting to note, for example, how the language used by PA officials regarding football and settlement expansion differs. While strong terminology has been supplied to FIFA, settlement expansion is generally criticised in the same tone used by the international community, which “deplores” and “condemns” Israel’s violations of international law in a perfunctory manner. Yet, it is due to settlement expansion and acquiescing to Israeli and international demands that other issues, such as football, emerge.
While the points raised by Rajoub are valid, the PA has no right to diminish the existence of Israeli colonial expansion by focusing only on the consequences. Such is the PA’s capitulation to Israel that it fails persistently to shift focus upon Israel, preferring instead to work within the dynamics of allowing violations to become permanent enough to ensure that it has a supply of objections, while refusing to make the case for Palestinian rights. Rajoub’s use of the word capitulation, should if the PA is serious, prompt some equally serious introspection.