Palestinians are preparing to host a World Cup-qualifying soccer match against the United Arab Emirates next month in a test of Israel’s commitment to FIFA to lift restrictions against their West Bank-based team.
The Sept. 8 face-off at Faisal al-Husseini Stadium outside Jerusalem will require Israel both to admit players from the U.A.E., with which it has no diplomatic relations, and enable Palestinians from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip to travel to the West Bank.
Israel assured FIFA it would facilitate movement of players between the non-contiguous Palestinian territories after the Palestine Football Association sought to have it ousted from the world soccer body. The Palestinians dropped their effort, but not before FIFA President Sepp Blatter traveled to the Mideast in May to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to try to resolve the dispute.
Although a committee established to monitor Israel’s adherence to the agreement held its first meeting last week in Zurich, Palestinian officials said they still anticipate interference.
“We expect the Israeli side to impose obstacles but it’s our right to hold the match,” Abdel Majeed Hijeh, general secretary of the Ramallah-based Palestine Football Association, said in a phone interview.
Israel will review security records before deciding whether any of the Gaza players won’t be allowed out of the territory, according to a military official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The U.A.E team will be permitted to cross into the West Bank from Jordan through an Israeli border control station, the official said.
The Palestinian team, made up of local and foreign players of Palestinian descent, qualified last year for the Asian Cup. The tournament would be the team’s first appearance in a major competition since FIFA recognized it in 1998.