Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suspended the pilot scheme prohibiting West Bank Palestinian workers to ride in the same buses as Israelis, only hours after it was announced. The program to separate Israeli and Palestinian bus travels was launched under the directive of Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.
The initiative was called off amid fierce criticism from Israeli leaders and human rights groups.
Under the segregation program – which was due to come into effect on Wednesday – hundreds of Palestinians, who travel to Israel every day for work, were banned from traveling with Israelis on buses.
“Under a three-month pilot project, Palestinians who work in Israel will, starting Wednesday, need to return home by the same crossings without taking buses used by (Israeli) residents of the occupied West Bank,” a official had explained.
However, now Palestinians have the liberty to return to West Bank from Israel any way they chose – including taking buses with Israelis. However, they have to use a travel permit to cross each time.
“You don't need to be a security expert to realize that 20 Arabs on a bus with a Jewish driver and two or three passengers and one soldier with a gun is a set-up for an attack,” said Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, citing security concern as the main reason behind the segregation.
The decision was dubbed discriminatory and received criticism by the Israeli leaders themselves. Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog even called it a “stain on the state” that would damage its international image.
“The decision to separate Palestinians and Jews on public transportation is an unnecessary humiliation that is a stain on the state and its citizens,” he said on his Facebook page.
The leader of Israel’s leftwing Meretz party, Zahava Gal-On even exclaimed “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,” she added.
While the move was welcomed by settler groups and pro-settlement MPs who have been rooting for these restrictions for a long time, the timing of its launch – between the visits by FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini – had seemed a little odd.
Needless to say, if the restrictions were actually imposed, the long-lasting tensions between the two groups residing in the region would have reached new levels.