The head of Asian football has praised FIFA for bringing Israeli and Palestinian football chiefs together in a drive to end a bitter row over the Jewish state’s security measures.
The heads of the two football associations shook hands 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 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.”
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 football over the issue.
Israel says football 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 recognised as a full member of FIFA but is not yet recognised as a full member of the United Nations,” said Blatter.
FIFA created a task force in July to address the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Shaikh Salman, a Bahraini, said he hoped the two football governing bodies could reach an agreement by October.
For political reasons, Israel have had a rocky road in international football, having played in Asia until 1974, then Oceania, before joining UEFA in 1991.