Palestine drops motion to suspend Israel from FIFA

ZURICH (Reuters) - Palestine dropped its motion to suspend Israel from international football amid highly-charged scenes at the FIFA Congress on Friday.

Instead, the Congress voted in favour of a proposal to create a multilateral committee of observers to monitor the freedom of players and officials to move in and out of the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israel Football Association (IFA) President Ofer Eini at one point called on his Palestine counterpart Jibril Rajoub to come on stage and shake hands in front of the Congress, something Rajoub initially declined in a tense standoff.

"I would very much want us to shake hands, and say we are launching a new road," said Eini.

But Rajoub said he would only make such a gesture once a deal had been made to address the Palestine FA's grievances.

"I am ready to come and shake hands but let us vote, make a deal that me and you will cooperate under the statutes of FIFA," said Rajoub, a former politician.

They eventually shook hands once a proposal had been drawn up by FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

Part of a broad campaign to press for full independence for Palestinians, the Palestine FA (PFA) has accused Israel of hampering its activities and restricting the movement of players between the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel cites security concerns for the restrictions and the country's football association has argued that it has no control over such matters.

Football's world governing body has been trying to settle the matter for two years and Blatter this month travelled to the region and met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestine had asked for a motion proposing that Israel be suspended, which would have meant that Israeli teams could not take part in international competitions, but Rajoub said he had been persuaded to back down.

"I decided to drop the suspension, but it does not mean that I give up the resistance," Rajoub told the Congress.

"A lot of colleagues who I respect and I appreciate explained to me how it is painful for them to hear in this family about the issue of suspension.

"Tens of presidents of associations from Africa, South America, North America and Europe said to me that they don't want to have the precedent of suspending an association."

Complaining of Israeli restrictions, he said Michel Platini, the head of football's governing body in Europe, had once visited Palestine and donated equipment. "It was kept in an Israeli airport for 16 months and I had to pay $32,000 (20,962 pounds) to release equipment which was (worth) 8,000 euros ($8,790)," he said.

Rajoub has also accused Israel's FA of turning a blind eye to racism against Arabs in Israeli football and says five Israeli league teams based on Jewish settlements built on occupied land should not be allowed to play.

Eini asked to address Congress from the podium and said: "Let's leave it to the politicians to deal with politics and join forces and do the best we can on both sides.

"I want us to work together, I want us to co-operate, I want us to hug and embrace each other."

(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris and Crispian Balmer)

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