ZURICH: Israeli and Palestinian football chiefs gathered Tuesday for landmark talks called by FIFA, which aim to ease the movement of players in and out of the Palestinian territories and use sport to build trust.
The debut meeting of FIFA's task force on Israeli-Palestinian football relations comes just weeks after a politically-charged dispute over Israeli entry restrictions on players from Arab nations for a youth tournament hosted by the Palestinian Football Association.
The Palestinian side protests that Israeli policies smother the development of the game in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel meanwhile points to the abuse of football facilities by Palestinian militants to fire rockets at its cities and warns that sport has been used as a tool to disseminate anti-Israeli propaganda.
The task force was created in July at the behest of world football governing body FIFA's governing congress.
"The idea behind this is to facilitate the contacts between the two, but also to try to find ways and solutions where football can help to solve a little bit the real problems that exist between these two football associations and these two peoples," FIFA president Sepp Blatter said ahead of Tuesday's meeting at the governing body's headquarters in the Swiss city of Zurich.
"We are not in politics, but you know that football also has a political dimension when it comes to such problems," Blatter, who visited the Middle East in July, said in an interview posted on FIFA's website.
He said the role of FIFA was to "make sure that in both countries you can play football according to the statutes" of world football, and that there would be "no leverage and nobody will hinder the practice of football".
The very fact that the two sides agreed to meet shows they have a "good spirit to solve the problem," he noted.
But he acknowledged that whatever the outcome of Tuesday's talks, the ball would still be in the governments' court.
"We cannot solve all the problems in one day, because the parties have to go back to their political authorities," he said.
Besides Blatter, the Palestinian Football Association's chief Jibril Rajub and his Israeli opposite number Avi Luzon, the task force includes the head of the Jordan Football Association, Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein, who is a vice-president of FIFA.
Also on the list are the president of European football's governing body UEFA, Frenchman Michel Platini, and his Asian Football Confederation counterpart, Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain.
For historical and political reasons, Israel is a UEFA member while most Arab nations are part of the Asian football family.