Tokyo Sexwale Photo: MIKE HUTCHINGS/Reuters
JOHANNESBURG – World soccer's governing body, FIFA, has refused to discuss a report by Tokyo Sexwale, the head of the Israel/Palestine monitoring committee, on resolving the contentious issue of six Israeli soccer teams, from illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, playing illegally on Palestinian territory.

The Palestinian Football Association (PFA) has been pushing for sanctions against the Israeli settlement teams as their presence on Palestinian land is in violation of FIFA Statutes that prohibit nations from administering football or basing their teams on territories belonging to another nation.

FIFA's Council meeting kicked off on Wednesday after Sexwale's controversial draft resolution was removed from its agenda following a decision reached by the organisation's council, which convened in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, ahead of the FIFA Congress.

In an official statement, FIFA said that following a discussion of the matter, the FIFA Council decided that it would be too early for the congress to make any decision on the issue.

Sexwale had been expected to report to council members who would then recommend an option to the members of the FIFA Congress on Wednesday and Thursday. These developments followed intense pressure placed on FIFA by Israel. The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called FIFA President Gianni Infantino over the weekend, asking him to remove the Palestinian demand to impose sanctions against the six settlement teams from the congress agenda.

Sexwale wrote a broad report laying out three options for FIFA: Option A: Maintain the status quo and continue to violate FIFA's rules, Sexwale concluded that doing this goes against "the views expressed by the international community in relation to the settlements through various UN resolutions", and is aware that such a position would lead to legal action taken against FIFA in Swiss and international courts. Option B: FIFA warns the Israel Football Association (IFA) and gives it six months to suspend the settlement teams.

Sexwale highlighted that this solution was in line with FIFA's rules and policies, and was even-handed. But he warned that Israeli authorities could punish Palestinians by frustrating Palestinian football. Option C: Keep negotiating, but Sexwale made clear that this was futile, and he was aware that the Palestinian side could not compromise on the illegality of settlements as that was something enshrined in International Law.

"A suspension of the settlement teams would be a historical moment for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine, akin to the moment when the Apartheid South African Rugby team was banned from international tournaments," said Avaaz, a US-based civic organisation which promotes global activism on issues such as climate change, human rights, animal rights, corruption, poverty, and conflict.

It would further have proven to Israeli society that it has a choice between peace or continued settlement of Palestinian lands and military occupation, added Avaaz. Currently, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are not allowed to build schools or football pitches because they live in or near 60 percent of the West Bank that is under Israeli military control and that is slated for settlement expansion.

"These communities are stricken from access to water while they can watch the settlers, who are often living on private lands expropriated from these Palestinian communities, watering their green pitches," said Avaaz.

"It is a symbol of modern day discrimination. Similarly, Palestinian athletes continue to be often banned from travel and freedom of movement." The Palestinians have been pressuring FIFA and its member states since 2015 to take action against Israel over the settlement teams. They complain of movement restrictions placed on Palestinian soccer players and teams when moving around the West Bank or trying to get to the occupied territory from Gaza.