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Gianni Infantino suggests that Israel could one day host the World Cup along with the Palestinians. The idea is controversial, not least because the people he met with in Jerusalem only represent one side of the story.
Gianni Infantino (l) suggested a joint Israel-Palestine World Cup at an event attended by former US ambassador to Israel David Friedman (r)
FIFA President Gianno Infantino caused a stir during his visit to Jerusalem this week after suggesting that the 2030 World Cup could take place in Israel, Palestine and other countries in the region.
"With the Abraham Accords [the normalization agreement between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain], why should we not have it here in Israel, with her neighbors in the Middle East and the Palestinians?" the FIFA boss said at the opening ceremony of the Friedman Center for Peace through Strength, which took place at Jerusalem's Museum of Tolerance.
The center was inaugurated by former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman earlier this week.
Friedman, a close ally of former US President Donald Trump's, has previously voiced support for Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.
"Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank," Friedman told The New York Times in 2019. He labeled Israel's control of the West Bank an "alleged occupation" in 2017.
Friedman was also in attendance at the meeting between Infantino and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet, where the FIFA chief suggested holding the World Cup in the region, according to the Israeli prime minister's office.
Friedman wasn't the only supporter of Israeli settlements who took part in the event Infantino attended. Former US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, was also honored for his part in bringing about the Abraham Accords in August 2020.
Pompeo was the first top US diplomat to make an official visit to a settlement in the West Bank, in 2020. Prior to attending the Center's inauguration, Pompeo visited a winery located in the settlement of Shiloh.
"Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law hasn't worked. It hasn't advanced the cause of peace," Pompeo said in 2019.
Among the other politicians who took part it the opening of the Friedman Center were right-wing Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Trump adviser Jared Kushner, the ex-president's son-in-law.
Parts of the Museum of Tolerance were built on territory in the western part of Jerusalem that belongs to an ancient Muslim cemetery. Infantino's participation in the event resulted in the cancellation of his meeting with the Palestinian Football Association, who described it as "a total affront to the values of religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence, both endorsed by the FIFA statutes."
In a report published in April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Israel of pursuing policies of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians. Israel's Foreign Ministry has rejected the claims as "both preposterous and false."
The new Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv is one of the few arenas in Israel that would meet FIFA World Cup hosting requirements
Political controversy aside, there are also significant infrastructural hurdles that Israel and its neighbors would have to overcome were the region to ever host the World Cup.
In its prerequisites for hosting countries, FIFA requires that stadiums hosting World Cup games have a capacity of at least 40,000, with the venues for the opening ceremony and the final being required to hold 80,000 supporters.
The biggest stadium in terms of capacity currently in use in Israel is the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, which can hold 34,000 fans. The Sammy Ofer stadium in Haifa can entertain up to 30,000 people, as can Tel Aviv's newly-renovated Bloomfield Stadium. All three stadiums have been built or renovated in the past decade.
The stadium in Ramat Gan, located to the north of Tel Aviv, which can hold up to 41,500 fans and has previously been used for national team games and cup finals, is set to be demolished. It is unclear whether a new ground with similar capacity will be built in its place.