Palestinian Setback at World Soccer Confab

If ever there was a venue where Palestinians presumably would have the upper hand against Israel, it was at this week’s world soccer conference in Zurich. After all, the meeting drew more than 200 soccer federations from around the world. Israel, it seemed, might be hard put to prevail against a Palestinian delegation in such a final showdown.

And yet, when push came to shove, the Palestinians had to scrap their No. 1 priority motion -- to ban Israel from international soccer. After huffing and puffing for several days, the Palestinian delegates beat an abject retreat and withdrew their own motion. The outlook was clear. If the Palestinians forced a vote to ban Israel, they would court utter defeat.

The usual automatic anti-Israel scenario in global affairs failed to materialize. Palestinian soccer chief Jibril Rajoub threw in the towel and was forced to settle for a tripartite monitoring group (Israel, Palestinians, FIFA) to settle any disagreements.

Israel’s delegate, Ofer Eini, declared himself “delighted” that Rajoub’s motion to expel Israel went nowhere. Eini ended up urging Rajoub to “leave politics to the politicians.” It turned out that this formulation was the key to Israel’s success. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cautioned FIFA members that international soccer, already in the grip of a major scandal, didn’t need to pour more politics into its deliberations.

“Sport is a vehicle of good will among nations,” he declared. “The thing that could destroy the Football Association is politicizing it. You politicize is once with Israel, then you politicize it for everyone, and it will cause the deterioration of a great institution.”

Netanyahu also blasted Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority for pushing a political “provocation” at the FIFA confab.  Such tactics, he said, only push peace farther away.

With Palestinian leaders in retreat, Bibi was able to claim a diplomatic victory for Israel.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter publicly opposed the Palestinian motion to ban Israel. So did FIFA’s executive committee. And so did the 54 voting members of  FIFA’s European federation.  Yes, you heard it right, the Europeans, normally hyper-critical of Israel, joined hands with Israel and abandoned the Palestinians.

Bottom line: A resounding victory for Israel. An abject setback by Palestinian leaders hoist by their own petard.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers