Palestinians hail Messi for calling off Jerusalem match

Palestinians holding banners in front of the Argentinian office in Ramallah on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: AP

Palestinian football officials praised Argentina and its star Lionel Messi on Wednesday for calling off a friendly match against Israel that Israeli officials had planned to move to Jerusalem.

Argentina’s final World Cup warm-up against Israel was originally slated to be held in the Israeli coastal city of Haifa but was moved to Jerusalem at the urging of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain announced on Tuesday it was cancelled.

“The Israelis tried to use Messi and those stars from Argentina, and I would like to thank them and appreciate their decision, which I think was on the right track,” Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub told a news conference on Wednesday in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

At the entrance to the news conference was a placard saying “From Palestine, thank you Messi” with Argentinian and Palestinian flags, under a big photo of Mr. Rajoub posing with the Barcelona ace.

It was a change of tone from Mr. Rajoub, who on Sunday had called for Palestinians to burn replica Messi shirts and photos if the Argentinian played in Jerusalem.

“The Argentinian Football Association cancelled the agreement it signed with the Israelis because it reached the conclusion that this match is a political one,” he said.

Israel’s Football Association accused the Palestinians of crossing a “red line” by inciting anger towards the Argentinian players in order to scupper the match. It said it would complain to football world governing body FIFA about Mr. Rajoub's comments, which it described as “physical and brutal threats”.

The Palestinians opposed the decision to hold the match in Jerusalem, accusing Israel of seeking to use the fixture, and especially the presence of global star Messi, to underpin Israel’s claim to the Holy City.

Disputed venue

Israel considers all of Jerusalem its capital, while Palestinians want the eastern part of the city as capital of their own state.

Most countries say Jerusalem's status must be left to be resolved in future peace talks, although U.S. President Donald Trump reversed American policy last year to recognise the city as capital of Israel.

Palestinian football officials say they would have had no issue if the match were held as planned in Haifa, but it should not have been moved to Jerusalem.

Zeev Elkin, a senior Israeli Cabinet Minister, said on Army Radio that holding the match in Jerusalem was a matter of national pride. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement “the politicisation of Argentina's move is very worrying”.

Israel’s football association announced that it will file a complaint to FIFA accusing its Palestinian counterpart of pressuring Argentinian players and staff into cancelling the friendly match.

Rotem Kamer, vice-president of the Israeli Football Association, accused the Palestinian FA of “football terror” after its leader called for protests against Argentina.

“We are confronting a football terror from the Palestinian Football Association and its president (Jibril Rajoub),” he said, accusing them of “threatening football players (against) coming to Israel.”

He also alleged the families of players were threatened, without providing any evidence. “We are seeing it as crossing a red line and we cannot accept it.”

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 11:29:44 PM |

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