Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
1 - 7 June 2000
Issue No. 484
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

 
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Playing with the enemy

By Alaa Shahine

While Lebanese are celebrating the end of their two-decade-old struggle against Israel, Palestinians are trying to find another means to reach the same end -- even if it means fielding a joint team with the Israelis to play against a squad of Italian singers.

The aim of last week's match in Rome, attended by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, was to raise money to install the Internet in schools and other facilities and to boost peace negotiations between the two sides which have faltered badly.

Earlier last month, Ahmed Al-Afifi, chairman of the Palestinian Football Federation, rejected a proposal submitted by FIFA President Sepp Blatter to organise a match between the Palestinian junior team and its Israeli counterpart. "We have refused Mr Blatter's proposal in light of Israel's refusal to implement any of the peace agreements," Al-Afifi said. He said Israel was hindering the progress of Palestinian sports and putting obstacles in the way of the players by restricting their movement inside and outside of Palestine. He said the Israeli authorities were late in granting the national team coach, Mustafa Hamido, an Egyptian, a visa to enter Israel. This, he added, affected preparations for the West Asian Cup in Jordan.

Arafat, Ciampi and Peres joyously link up

Given Al-Afifi's position, there was no explanation for the Rome match. Two weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak ordered his negotiating team to withdraw from negotiations in Sweden following violent clashes in the West Bank between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops. Mahmoud Abbas, secretary-general of the PLO's executive committee, denied the possibility of reaching a draft agreement on final settlement issues in-the-not too-distant future. "There are still wide gaps between the Palestinians and the Israelis on all issues," he told Palestinian Radio this week.

In addition to the current impasse, previous FIFA attempts to hold a match between the two sides failed. These included one effort in 1998 by former President Joao Havilange and by Blatter during his visit to Palestinian territories in October to open the premises of the Palestinian Football Federation.

But Arafat was there last week, watching the match from the stands of Rome's Olympic Stadium. He raised his arms and linked hands with Peres and Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. "I think it has never happened before," Peres said after the match. "Let's play football rather than shoot bullets at one another," Peres, Israel's minister of regional cooperation, added.

More cooperation is in the pipeline. Sources in the Israeli Olympic Committee say a bilateral meeting between the Olympic committees of both sides may take place at the Eretz crossing point on 14 June under the auspices of Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in order to enhance ties. The meeting will be held despite the IOC's decision to hang a memorial plaque in Sydney's Olympic village for 11 Israeli sportsmen killed in an attack by Palestinian commandos in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Officials of the Palestinian Olympic Committee filed an official protest to the IOC which had rejected previous appeals by Israel to have such a plaque raised. Rabie Al-Tork, the Palestinian committee's vice president, condemned the decision. "If they are going to do so with the Israelis, they have to do the same thing with us," Al-Tork said, referring to Palestinians killed by Israelis.


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