UAE, Israel Strengthen Sports Cooperation
Palestinians slam new ties between Emirati, Israeli soccer federations
Palestinians expressed great indignation over the UAE Football Association’s announcement on Saturday that it will sign a cooperation agreement with the Israel Football Association in Dubai on Monday, in the presence of FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
The memorandum of understanding foresees “the establishment of friendly matches for all national teams and clubs” and “joint workshops for the technical and administrative members of the federations,” the United Arab Emirates Football Association said.
Several agreements in the realm of sports have been signed between the two countries since the announcement of the peace agreement in mid-August. On December 7, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, bought 50% of the Beitar Jerusalem Football Club, which plays in the Israeli Premier League.
The Palestinian Football Association declined to respond when asked for comment on the matter.
Mohammed Iraqi, a sports writer for the Ramallah-based Al-Ayyam newspaper, told The Media Line there was an official and popular Palestinian consensus to condemn all of the Arab peace agreements with Israel that extended to all facets of life.
“Unfortunately, the sports aspect is part of that. The Palestinians deplore and denounce the shameful UAE and the Gulf rush to normalize relations with the Zionist entity,” Iraqi said.
The UAE was giving Israel “free gifts” including in the field of sports, as the agreement to be signed between the soccer associations formed a blow to the Palestinian people and an insult to its suffering, “especially now, when Israel is expanding settlements and increasing arrests, in addition to its annexation plan for the West Bank,” he explained.
The Palestinians were surprised that the UAE was so easily legitimizing Israel in the region and helping it, when the latter deprived the Palestinians of their rights, Iraqi said. “The Emiratis are rewarding Israel with sports agreements and establishing relations between the UAE clubs and Israeli clubs.
“The great disaster remains that an Emirati businessman bought shares in the Israeli Beitar Jerusalem Club, which is Zionist and extremist, as well as fanatic against the Muslims and Palestinians,” Iraqi added.
The cooperation agreement “comes in activation of the peace treaty that was signed between the United Arab Emirates and Israel,” Mohammed Abdullah Hazzam al-Dhaheri, general secretary of the UAE Football Association, said.
The Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport’s spokesperson’s department told The Media Line the ministry welcomed the agreement.
“We see great importance in promoting and expanding international collaborations in the field of sports, between sports organizations and their counterparts abroad,” the statement said.
In parallel with these collaborations, the ministry, in coordination with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, works to promote cooperation agreements with counterparts not only in the UAE, but also in Bahrain, as has been done with other countries, the statement continued.
Yoav Borowitz, a sports analyst for Haaretz, told The Media Line it was important for Israel to deepen the ties with the UAE, as it would benefit the country professionally and financially and serve peace in the Middle East at large.
“Israeli football officials are very eager to deepen those ties [with the UAE], to have friendly matches and any other kind of cooperation,” Borowitz said.
Palestinians were unhappy with the cooperation accord as it did not serve their efforts toward a peace agreement with Israel, he said. “We can’t separate sports from politics.”
Nevertheless, Borowitz suggested it would be good if Israel the Palestinians could improve their relations with through their shared love of soccer. “Football is a universal language that speaks love. There’s no reason both sides can’t try to lead by example and strengthen ties,” he said.
Ahmed Alsyaaf, an Emirati analyst and author, told The Media Line the sports agreement came as an extension to the peace treaty between the UAE and Israel, which was to be expected.
“Since the start, both sides have been looking to exchange expertise and to promote this peace agreement with other agreements, especially in terms of sport, which is very dear to people,” Alsyaaf said.
“Israel used to [have to] travel great distances to participate in football games and other [sporting] events. Now we can exchange experiences with Israel, bring their teams to the UAE, and send our teams to Israel,” he said.
The UAE’s peace agreement with Israel enabled Emiratis to invest in all opportunities, economic, social and scientific, Alsyaaf said.