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Palestinians cancel Fifa chief's visit after gala event at historic Muslim cemetery

Gianni Infantino talked with Naftali Bennett and former US officials about Israel and Arab nations co-hosting the 2030 World Cup
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) and Fifa president Gianni Infantino in Jerusalem, on 12 October 2021 (Haim Zach/Government Press Office)

Palestinian football officials have cancelled a meeting with Fifa president Gianni Infantino, following his attendance at a gala in a controversial building atop a Muslim cemetery in occupied Jerusalem.

Infantino met on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and Steven Mnuchin and David Friedman, former US officials in Donald Trump's administration, to discuss the idea of Israel and Arab countries co-hosting the football World Cup in 2030.

Infantino told a conference in the Museum of Tolerance, built atop Mamilla Islamic cemetery in Jerusalem, that "nothing is impossible".

“Why can’t we dream of the World Cup in Israel and its neighbours?” he said.

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“With the Abraham Accords, why should we not do it here in Israel with her neighbours in the Middle East and the Palestinians?

"We have been speaking a lot in recent months, after the UAE and Israel signed their normalisation agreement. So perhaps co-hosting is an option," Infantino said.

He added that "the next World Cup after Qatar will be hosted by Canada, Mexico and the United States - obviously three huge countries. So why not Israel?"

Representatives of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, who signed normalisation deals with Israel in 2020, attended the conference on Monday. Sudan, the fourth country to sign the US-led "Abraham Accords", was not present.

Mamilla Islamic cemetery

Late on Monday, Infantino had attended the inaugural gala of the Friedman Center for Peace through Strength, held in the Museum of Tolerance.

The think tank was named after David Friedman, a former US ambassador to Israel, who took office in May 2017 and has raised donations for illegal settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Infantino's visit to Ramallah in the occupied West Bank to meet Jibril Rajoub, the president of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) and the Olympic Committee, was called off at the last minute.

On Monday, he was scheduled to meet Palestinian officials and politicians, kick-start a women's final match, and lay the foundation stone of the PFA's Medical and Technical centre.

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The PFA said in a statement that it "regrets" Infantino's decision to attend an event "in the so-called 'Museum of Tolerance', an edifice built over the Ma'man Allah Islamic cemetery, the oldest Muslim burial site in Jerusalem, dating back to the 11th century, along with Zionist Evangelicals and former officials of US administration of [Trump]".

The PFA sent a letter to the Fifa president, setting out the "dangers" of politicising sport and "supporting Zionist evangelical groups which are outspoken in its denial of basic rights of Palestinian people and its call to breach the international law…

"Building a museum in this site violates the sanctity of a cemetery that contains the remains of [the Prophet Mohammed's] companions and Muslim scholars, who were buried in this Islamic endowment land over hundreds of years of Jerusalem's history," the PFA statement said.

The gala at the Friedman Center was also attended by former US President Donald Trump's daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, and former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Palestinian political powers across the board rejected the US-led normalisation deals with Arab countries, calling them "a stab in the back".

They have turned down lucrative US offers to invest in the Palestinian economy in return for a compromise over political rights, such as building a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip and retaining occupied East Jerusalem as Palestine's capital.

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