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High drama in Zurich

Joscha Weber, Zurich / alMay 29, 2015

Emotional scenes from Israeli and Palestinian delegates in Zurich on Friday turned the world's attention away from the FIFA presidential vote for a moment. DW's Joscha Weber was on hand to witness a unique handshake.

Ofer Eini and Jibril Rajoub
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Bieri

For many years the FIFA initiative called "Handshake for Peace" just sounded like any other PR exercise from the world's football governing body. It was a nice idea to have opponents shaking hands before every game, but it didn't really seem to achieve much.

But at the FIFA congress in Zurich on Friday, it finally took on a tangible meaning. At the end of his speech to delegates, Israeli football president Ofer Eini offered a handshake to his Palestinian colleague Jibril Raboub, but Rajoub hesitated. Firstly Rajoub wanted congress participants to vote on three measures, while Israel suggested a new course of action. Finally, FIFA president Sepp Blatter tried to get the meeting back under control by bringing the two suggestions together. In the end, 90 percent of the members agreed to his suggestion to start a commission to look at various issues that the Palestinians still believe are unresolved.

And, finally, there it was: the handshake between both sides. Earlier both football association presidents had held emotional speeches concerning the situations in their respective football federations.

"We have to show a red card to this type of degradation," said Rajoub, after explaining the situation in Palestinian football. He received a round of applause. The clapping was even louder when he said that he was withdrawing his application to suspend the Israel FA from FIFA.

Palestinian national team
The Palestinian FA says its footballers often have to train and travel under difficult conditionsImage: picture-alliance/AP/Rajshekhar Rao

"I am not doing this because I'm giving up. I'm doing this because I want to protect Palestinian football," said Raboub.

Rajoub is concerned most about the free movement of players and the barriers put up against his association. In his speech, he spoke of donated goods that were delayed into the country by Israeli authorities. He said he had to pay $32,000 (29,100 euros) for a donation of soccer gear from Michel Platini worth only $8,000.

"We should listen to each other"

His Israeli counterpart Ofer Eini's answer was just as emotionally charged, but was conciliatory in nature: "Let's leave these questions to politicians. I want us to support each other. We should listen to each other. We are all here together as friends."

The background to the disagreement between the two federations is not just related to the two countries' ongoing political conflict. Palestine says that its players are not able to move around freely and it accuses Israel of racism. It's also angry about five Israeli clubs which are based in the occupied territories (in the West Bank), yet play in Israel's leagues. The Israeli federation, for their part, argue that they have no influence over the security measures enforced by their government.

Just after the congress opened in the Hallenstadion building in Zurich on Friday morning, a protest started up. A woman with a Palestinian flag in her hand moved towards the stage, but was stopped by security after Blatter called them into action. During the morning session of the congress, anti-Israel protests also took place in front of the venue.

But in the end, things seem to have been sorted for now and Blatter had the last word. "A commission should be set up, which is responsible for sorting out the problems between the two organizations," Blatter said.