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World Soccer Chief Calls Dispute Over Israeli Settlement Teams ‘Priority’

— The new president of FIFA, the governing body of international soccer, said he would make finding a resolution to the conflict over West Bank Israeli soccer teams “a priority.”

Gianni Infantino was elected to serve a three-year term as head of FIFA in February.

“This is one of my priorities and our priorities. I have not yet gone into the area simply because the situation is such that at the moment the conditions are not there yet, but we’re working on it,” Infantino told AFP in an exclusive interview.

Six Israeli teams play their home matches in West Bank settlements.

The international NGO Human Rights Watch last week called on FIFA to quit sponsoring matches held by the Israel Football Association on West Bank pitches.

Human Rights Watch said it had conducted an investigation of the Israel Football Association, a FIFA member, and found that the group holds games in West Bank settlements “on land unlawfully taken from Palestinians.”

Also, the Palestinian Football Association has accused its Israeli counterpart of violating FIFA rules by holding games without permission on the territory of another member group. A FIFA committee is set to submit recommendations on the issue by Oct. 13, when FIFA holds its executive committee meeting, and is expected to discuss the issue.

Infantino told AFP that he attended a meeting on Wednesday with the commission monitoring the problems affecting the development of soccer in Palestine, which is headed by South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale.

“I just got out of a meeting with Mr. Sexwale to try to find a solution to this issue which should be a football question but has become a political issue, for which the world has not yet found a satisfactory solution,” Infantino told AFP. “We try to put politics aside and talk football and see how we can play the best conditions for football in this region.”

“I am always confident that with dialogue, with discussion and by talking only of sport and by leaving out the politics, we can find a solution,” he also said.

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