When Argentina’s national soccer team was slated to play a friendly match in Israel shortly before the World Cup earlier this year, Jibril Rajoub, the head of the Palestinian soccer federation, encouraged fans to target the team’s star, Lionel Messi, and burn his jerseys in an effort to cancel the game by means of intimidation. It worked: The Argentines bowed out, going on to suffer a string of humiliating defeats that ejected them from the international tournament at an early stage. Now it’s Rajoub’s turn to once again learn the lesson Palestinian leadership refuses again and again to heed: Violence will get you nowhere.
Earlier this week, FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, banned Rajoub for one year and fined him 20,000 Swiss Francs, or $20,400, for inciting “hatred and violence.” This will deny Rajoub his favorite platform, speaking at FIFA meetings to blast Israel and demand that the Jewish state be censured. In response, Rajoub’s organization blamed FIFA’s decision on shadowy “interest groups” as well as on Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
As kerfuffles go, this one is of relatively little importance: The fine levied on Rajoub is not large, and his ejection from meetings is largely symbolic. But it’s precisely its insignificance that makes l’affaire Rajoub so instructive. Here, in one small but resonant package, are all the components of the Palestinian national tragedy: The absolute refusal to engage in good-faith negotiations; the knee-jerk and gleeful dependence on violence; the malevolent narcissism that turns everything, from entertainment to sports, into a referendum on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the vicious conspiracy theories that hold that the Jews somehow control all of the world’s organizations; and, worse of all, the refusal to take any responsibility for any action, no matter how blatantly and obviously vile.
Palestinian soccer, then, like Palestinian nationalism, will continue to falter for the foreseeable future, registering no larger achievements than causing Israel minor embarrassments while spending no energy or resources on self-improvement. What a pity; the Palestinian people deserve much, much better.