Fifa congress: Palestine drops bid to bar Israel in shock last minute decision

The Palestinian football association (PFA) has withdrawn its demand for the suspension of Israel from Fifa at the last minute.

Following the dramatic decision this afternoon, an amended vote took place for Fifa to set up a monitoring committee to assess three Palestinian grievances against Israel, including the status of five Israeli football teams which are based in settlements in the West Bank.

90% of Fifa members voted in favour of the amended Palestinian proposals.

PFA chairman Jibril Rajoub also called for the status of the settlement teams to be considered by the UN. The other two grievances are the free movement of Palestinian footballers and officials and alleged Israeli racism against Palestinians.

In his speech to the congress, Rajoub said he had been convinced by figures including German chancellor Angela Merkel to drop the call for suspension. The PFA chairman also said he had faced death threats during his campaign.

Following the speech and a reply by the president of the Israel football association (IFA), Ofer Eini, the two men shook hands as Blatter said he was delighted with the outcome.

Prior to the vote, a Palestinian government official in Zurich told Newsweek that an amended proposal would be going ahead despite opposition from Blatter.

The Swiss Fifa president recently conducted peacemaking trips to Israel and Palestine in a bid to avert a vote on Israel's membership of Fifa. Israeli newspaper Haaretz also reported this morning that Fifa officials held late-night talks with Israeli representatives to try and agree concessions which would avoid a vote.

The Palestinian official, speaking before the vote on condition of anonymity, said no deal had been struck between the two parties and indicated the Fifa president was trying to delay the vote.

"There is no deal! Just that Blatter is trying to block the vote," the official said. "[It is] a mafia here! We have a good legal team, but it's just incredible. We are doing our best."

If Israel had been suspended, it would have joined unwelcome company including apartheid South Africa, suspended in 1964, and Yugoslavia under Slobodan Milosevic, which was banned in 1994. Suspension from Fifa would mean that the Israeli national team could not participate in international tournaments, such as the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Haaretz reported this morning that several concession were offered to the Palestinians after last night's meeting, including allowing Palestinian footballers and coaches easier movement between the West Bank and abroad and offering to pay customs for Palestinian sports equipment imported via Israel.

However, the Palestinians' key demand that five teams based in West Bank settlements be suspended from Israel's football league was not met. Rajoub reportedly demanded on Wednesday that the UN should be allowed to rule on the status of the teams, which was rejected by Israeli officials.

Before the vote, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to Facebook to air his frustration with the PFA's plan.

Netanyahu said the IFA was involved in a "persistent and just battle against the Palestinian attempt to undermine the legitimacy of Israel and Israeli soccer". He added that the vote stemmed from Palestine's "opposition to our right to our own state".

Despite Blatter's recent trip, it seemed up until the last minute that the PFA were going to proceed with seeking Israel's suspension from Fifa. The PFA claims that the IFA is in breach of Fifa rules by allowing the settlement teams to play in their league and restricting the movement of Palestinian players and officials. The PFA also says the IFA ignores racism towards Palestinians.

Ron Gilran, an expert on Israel-Palestine relations from Tel Aviv-based thinktank the Levantine Group, says that the Palestinian tactic of bringing the peace process into the international arena via the Fifa proposal constitutes a new tactic in negotiations with Israel.

"What the Fifa vote represents is the Palestinian's strategic decision to go on a unilateral path due to their belief that the bilateral course with Israel is not going to lead them to where they want to go. There is a complete lack of trust in the current Israeli administration," says Gilran.

In other developments, today's Fifa congress was briefly interrupted by two female pro-Palestinian protesters. The women brandished a red card towards Blatter and unveiled a Palestinian flag before being ejected by security.

This week's meeting of football's world governing body has been rocked after seven Fifa officials were arrested on Wednesday amidst allegations of a $150m (€137m) racketeering scandal.

Swiss authorities also launched an investigation into money laundering in the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, given to Russia and Qatar respectively.

This article has been updated to reflect the last minute decision by the Palestinian football association (PFA) to withdraw their demand for the suspension of Israel from Fifa.