JERUSALEM (AP) — FIFA President Sepp Blatter said Tuesday that he hopes to resolve a dispute between Israel and the Palestinians before the World Cup begins.
The Palestinian Football Association has complained to Blatter about Israeli travel restrictions on some of their players in the West Bank as well as in the Gaza Strip, a territory ruled by the Palestinian Islamic militant group Hamas.
Blatter said he hopes a memorandum of understanding will be signed between Israel and the Palestinian football associations in Brazil ahead of the games. He said the document is valid for a year and will then be extended. Speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday Blatter said he hopes it will be “signed and sealed” before the games begin.
Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — areas the Palestinians want for a state — in the 1967 war from Jordan and Egypt. Israel has imposed some travel restrictions on Palestinians in those areas citing concerns about possible suicide bombings and other attacks by Palestinian militants. Critics say those restrictions can amount to collective punishment.
On Monday, Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestine Football Association, said if travel restrictions aren’t lifted then he would call on FIFA to impose sanctions on the Israeli Football Association. He did not elaborate but has said in the past that he wants Israel suspended from FIFA.
Rajoub said Gaza players are particularly affected by travel restrictions, but there are also delays in getting Israeli entry permits for foreign delegations and visitors.
The Islamic militant group Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007 after ousting the rival secular Palestinian Fatah group in bloody street fighting. Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, now govern part of the West Bank only.
Repeated reconciliation attempts have failed, but the rivals seem to have made progress in talks lately and have said they are close to a unity deal.
After the Hamas takeover, Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on the coastal territory in a measure said to prevent the militant group from getting weapons.
Blatter said officials from the Israeli and Palestinian teams meet regularly and will hopefully resolve the issue before the FIFA Congress.
FIFA is meeting on June 10-11 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, just before the start of the World Cup.