Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled an initial scheme that would ban Palestinian workers from boarding Israeli buses in the occupied territories only hours after it was announced. Critics denounced the scheme as tantamount to apartheid.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had originally approved the plan but was cancelled as a result of fierce criticism from Israeli opposition figures, human rights groups, and a former minister in Netanyahu’s own party who called the plan “a stain on the face of Israel” that would tarnish its reputation around the world.
The plan was, however, welcomed by settler groups and pro-settler MPs who had long been lobbying for the ban.
The three-month pilot scheme, which would have taken effect on Wednesday, would have imposed strict new laws on thousands of Palestinians working with permits in Israel. They would have been made to travel home through certain designated checkpoints from which they entered from and barred from using Israeli-run buses in the occupied West Bank.
The scheme’s proposed launch seemed bizarre as it coincided with visits by Fifa President Sepp Blatter and EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini. Blatter now seeks to defuse moves pushing for a referendum to suspend Israel from Fifa for alleged discrimination against Palestinians.
Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog immediately condemned the scheme. On his Facebook page, he wrote: ““The decision to separate Palestinians and Jews on public transportation is an unnecessary humiliation that is a stain on the state and its citizens.”
“This is another one of the prime minister’s mistakes who is giving in to and supporting a horrible decision that has no connection to the security of the state,” he added.
Israel’s left-wing Meretz party leader, Zahava Gal-On said: “This is how apartheid looks. There is no better or nicer way to put it. Separate buses for Jews and Palestinians prove that democracy and occupation cannot co-exist.”
Palestinians holding entry permits, who are mainly employed by the construction industry, currently enter Israel through smart crossings that register them and are then allowed to return using public transportation without registering on their return.
The details of the scheme were widely covered on Wednesday and confirmed by an Israeli defense official saying: “Under a three-month pilot project, Palestinians who work in Israel will, starting Wednesday, need to return home by the same crossing without taking buses used by [Israeli] residents.”
Israeli website Walla said that the plan’s implementation was initially held up for months due to the concern of military officials whose objections were overruled by Ya’alon, who claimed that it was necessary to supervise Arabs returning to the West Bank.
President Reuvin Rivlin welcomed the suspension of the scheme and said he had spoken to Ya’alon.
“As one who loves the Land of Israel, I have nothing but regret for the discordant voices that we heard this morning, supporting the separation between Jews and Arabs on the basis of ideas that have no place being heard or said,” he stated.
Jerusalem faced fresh violence on Wednesday when Israeli police shot dead a driver in a Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem after allegedly ramming them with his car and injuring two policewomen.