FIFA Wants to Know, Who has Jurisdiction of West Bank?

By: Morgan Lear

Relevant Background

In May 2015, tensions rose between Palestinian and Israeli leaders regarding a push to ban the Israeli Football Association (IFA) from FIFA. [1] Palestine Association (PFA) called for FIFA to suspend Israel from participating in the international football league because “of the detrimental effects Israeli policies have on football in Palestine.”[2] PFA claimed that Israel’s entry restrictions for team members from Gaza and other Palestinian players has affected the players ability to train.[3] More importantly, PFA claimed that Israel was “responsible for delays associated with finding the location for and the construction of artificial football fields in the West Bank” and six Israeli teams[4] were placed in the West Bank illegally.[5]

Rather than suspend Israel, PFA instead proposed FIFA create a monitoring committee to “look[] into Israeli racism in football, the freedom of movement for Palestinian football players and transfer of equipment, and the controversial status of the six Israeli teams based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.”[6] FIFA president Sepp Blatter came to an agreement on four issues with PFA and IFA.[7] Blatter announced that Israel will give a permit for athletes and sports officials from Gaza and the West Bank in order to efficiently move through checkpoints; there would be a professional sporting equipment exemption; football fields in West Bank and Gaza would be established through a joint committee; and a joint working group would be established to mediate any further disagreements.

However almost three years later, there is still one outstanding issue. There are six Israeli football teams that are based in West Bank settlements, which PFA claims is illegal under international law.[8] According to Article 72 of the FIFA bylaws “[a]ssociations, leagues or clubs that are affiliated to a member association may only join another member association or take part in competitions on that member association’s territory under exceptional circumstance. In each case, authorization must be given by both member associations, the respective confederation(s) and by FIFA.”[9] In other words PFA’s argument is that these six Israeli teams located in West Bank should not be part of the IFA unless given permission by PFA and FIFA. However, the jurisdiction of the West Bank is highly controversial and has remained so for decades.[10] Israel, on the other hand, has argued that FIFA cannot determine whether these teams should be banned because it is a political issue that must be resolved between Palestine and Israel and therefore “beyond [FIFA’s] purview to determine Israel’s borders.”[11]

In October 2016, FIFA Council was expected to make a final decision regarding the legitimacy of these six teams, however the Council deferred the issue to a later date.[12] PFA Chairman Jibril Rajoub threatened to bring this case to the Court of Arbitration for Sports, if FIFA Council continued to delay it decision.[13] FIFA responded by claiming that it will wait to hear a final report from the monitoring committee lead by Tokyo Sexwale.[14]

A full year later, October 27, 2017, FIFA released a statement that the jurisdiction of West Bank is a political issue and that it must remain neutral in the matter. FIFA described the issue as having “exceptional complexity and sensitivity and [encompassed] certain de facto circumstances that can neither be ignored nor changed unilaterally by non-governmental organizations such as FIFA.”[15] Further, FIFA Council stated it will “refrain from imposing any sanctions or other measures on either the Israel FA or the Palestinian FA, as well as from requesting any other FIFA body to do so.”[16]

Issue

Should the six Israeli teams be banned from FIFA?

Analysis

FIFA has been involved in the jurisdictional controversy over West Bank territory for over five years; however, this issue has been a point of contention between Palestine and Israel for decades. For this reason, FIFA has finally determined that any decision it makes would have political implications that would affect both parties. However, the question of whether the teams should be banned and relocated can still be answered under current laws and policy.

Israel’s argument rests on the Oslo Accords, which took place in the 1990s, where the leaders of the two parties established certain territorial lines, known as the “Two State solution”.[17] Under this solution, “the parties created three zones on the West Bank: Zone A: Under full political and security control of the PA[;] Zone B: Civil control of the PA and Israeli security control[;] Zone C: Controlled entirely by Israel.”[18] According to Israel, the teams are located in Zone C, which is controlled entirely by Israel under Oslo Accords. However, the Oslo Accords was merely dialogue between the parties, and was never finalized or reduced to writing.[19] Nonetheless, in 2016 the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2334 in the context of this issue.[20] The resolution opines that the parties should work towards “the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”[21]

Palestine, on the other hand, rightly asserts that the majority of the international community considers the West Bank to belong to Palestine.[22] Additionally, Palestine insists that UN resolutions and the International Court of Justice (2004) opinion solidifies its view.

Applying the United Nations Resolution 2334 of 2016, Palestine’s argument holds true. While the resolution makes several mentions of the two-state solution and the ultimate goal to achieve peace, it does not codify the Oslo Accords; it merely encourages its achievement. The resolution specifically states that it “condemn[s] all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967.”[23] During the aforementioned time, West Bank was governed by Palestine.[24] A strict reading of the FIFA policy and the UN resolution would lend to the conclusion that the six Israeli football teams in West Bank are illegally settled and therefore should be banned from FIFA or relocated.

Conclusion

This issue is highly complex, and this conclusion is made on a bird’s eye view of the deeply entrenched issue between Palestine and Israel. Ultimately, one thing holds true. As stated by Sexwale, “it would . . . be misplaced to expect that FIFA a football organization, should provide a solution where some of the best minds have failed.”[25]

 

 

[1] Inna Lazareva & Tel Aviv, Israeli-Palestinian conflict spills into football amid calls or Israel to be booted out of Fifa (May 19, 2015 3:34 PM), The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/11615776/Israeli-Palestinian-conflict-spills-into-football-amid-calls-for-Israel-to-be-booted-out-of-Fifa.html.

[2] id.

[3] Id.

[4] The six teams are “Beitar Ironi, Beitar Ironi Ariel, Beitar Givat Ze'ev, Beitar Ma'aleh Adomim, Hapoel Oranit and Hapoel Bik'at Hayarden.” Israel ‘lobbying FIFA’ to prevent settlement teams’ ban (Apr. 20, 2017), Aljazeera, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/israel-lobbying-fifa-prevent-ban-settlement-teams-170420105045514.html. Notably, other sources have only specified five teams that are in contention. See FIFA Monitoring Committee: Israel-Palestine Report.

[5] Inna Lazareva & Tel Aviv, supra note 1.

[6] Inna Lazareva & Tel Aviv, Palestinian Football Association drops bid to suspend Israel from Fifa (May 29, 2015 8:06 PM), The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/palestinianauthority/11639725/Palestinian-Football-Association-drops-bid-to-suspend-Israel-from-Fifa.html.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Article 72 FIFA Statutes, FIFA (Apr. 2016), available at http://resources.fifa.com/mm/document/affederation/generic/02/78/29/07/fifastatutsweben_neutral.pdf.

[10] West Bank, Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/place/West-Bank (last visited Jan. 15, 2017).

[11] Adam Rasgon, FIFA Postpones Making decision on Six West Bank Soccer Clubs (Jan. 12, 2017 6:59 PM), The Jerusalem Post, http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/FIFA-postpones-making-decision-on-six-West-Bank-soccer-clubs-478279.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] FIFA Council statement on the final report by the FIFA Monitoring Committee Israel-Palestine (Oct 27, 2017), FIFA, http://www.fifa.com/about-fifa/news/y=2017/m=10/news=fifa-council-statement-on-the-final-report-by-the-fifa-monitoring-comm-2917741.html.

[16] Id.

[17] FIFA Monitoring Committee: Israel Palestine Report, FIFA Council No. 4 (Oct. 27, 2017).

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] UN Doc. S/RES/2334 (Dec. 23, 2016).

[21] Id.

[22] FIFA Monitoring Committee: Israel-Palestine Report, supra note 17.

[23] Id.

[24] West Bank, Encyclopedia Britannica, supra note 10.

[25] FIFA Monitoring Committee: Israel-Palestine Report, supra note 17.

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