Palestinian fury over transfer to Israel side

Palestinian fury over transfer to Israel side

JERUSALEM - Agence France-Presse
Palestinian fury over transfer to Israel side

In this file photo dated March 9, 2011, Palestine’s Ali Khatib (L) fights for the ball against a Thai player during a qualifier game for the 2012 London Olympic Games.

World football governing body FIFA could be about to join international efforts to mediate between Israelis and Palestinians after an Arab-Israeli player switched from a Palestinian team to an Israeli one.

Ali Khatib has found himself at the centre of a storm after his bosses at Jabal Mukkaber, a top team in the Palestinian premier league, discovered he had tried out for Israel’s Hapoel Haifa -- and subsequently signed with them.

Jabal Mukkaber say he is in breach of contract, a charge denied by Hapoel Haifa. And what might otherwise be a local spat could now require intervention by FIFA because the Israeli and Palestinian football associations have no formal ties.

“It was a big surprise,” Jabal Mukkaber’s vice president Mohammed Zuhaika told AFP. “Khatib just decided on his own to go off to Hapoel Haifa and didn’t tell us anything about it.” Zuhaika said Khatib was contractually obliged to remain with the club for another four years, in a claim backed by the Palestinian Football Association (PFA).

Khatib “had a contract with Jabal Mukkaber until 2016 as a Palestinian player and cannot move to another club without his club’s consent,” said Ali Jibril, director of clubs and players affairs at the PFA. But the Israel Football Association (IFA) says Khatib was registered as an Israeli player and never requested a transfer to the Palestinian league.

“Ali Khatib is an Israeli player with Israeli citizenship, consecutively registered as a player with the Israel Football Association since the 2001-2 season,” IFA spokesman Amir Ephrat told AFP.

“Transfers between football associations take place by the means of an international release form, supervised by FIFA, and the IFA was never asked to release Khatib to another association.” For his part, Khatib, a 22-year-old Arab-Israeli midfielder who also plays for the Palestinian national side, says he has done nothing wrong and was within his rights to sign up with Hapoel Haifa.

“I’m a professional and a free agent, this was my chance,” he told AFP. “Frankly, I got a tempting offer and there was nothing to prevent me from moving.” Jibril and Zuhaika say they are ready to seek FIFA intervention in the matter.

“We may have to go to FIFA to solve the problem and to seek compensation for the losses incurred by the club,” Zuhaika said.

Jibril said the Palestinian Football Association would support such a move if it were necessary.

“We adhere to the international rules and regulations,” he said. “We will do everything to protect Palestinian clubs and Palestinian players.” Ephrat warned, however, that the PFA could find itself in hot water if it approaches FIFA over the issue. “If Khatib did indeed play as a member of the Palestinian Football Association, that association would have registered him without permission from the IFA, which would constitute a violation of FIFA rules.”