The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has announced its refusal to play a World Cup preliminary match against the Palestinian national soccer team in a stadium near Ramallah, Samaria.
In its official announcement Tuesday to FIFA, Saudi Arabia expressed concern for the safety of its players in the sensitive area of Judea-Samaria, but reports say the real reason behind the refusal is fear that playing in the area would be a recognition of the “Israeli occupation.”
The Saudis apparently protested having to move through Israeli military checkpoints to reach Ramallah, enraging Palestinian Football Association (PFA) president Jibril Rajoub who insisted the match be held at Al-Ram stadium.
Under pressure from the Saudi royal family, Palestinian Authority (PA) chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ office offered to postpone the game indefinitely or have Jordanian helicopters fly the Saudi national team directly to Ramallah, thereby circumventing the IDF checkpoints.
The Saudis, however, refused the offers and demanded the game be held in another country.
For the time being the game is postponed to the next level of qualifying matches as PA and Saudi officials try to work out a deal, although tensions on the ground appear strained.
According to Walla! News, Saudi television released a clip Tuesday mocking Rajoub, in which the PFA president is shown shaking the hand of his Israeli counterpart, and waving a gold sword.