ISRAELI prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called off a proposed plan to segregate Palestinians from Israelis on West Bank buses, overruling his own defence minister following a flurry of criticism in an attempt to avert the first crisis of his new government.
An official in the prime minister’s office yesterday said Mr Netanyahu called defence minister Moshe Yaalon to tell him he found his proposal “unacceptable” and the two then decided to freeze the plan.
Mr Yaalon had launched the three-month pilot programme following complaints from Jewish settlers who use the buses and say the Palestinian workers constitute a security threat and harass female Jewish passengers.
Thousands of Palestinians enter Israel for work each day from the West Bank and often return home in buses alongside Jewish settlers.
Palestinian labourers each have security clearance and special permits, but the proposed change would have forced them to return home through the same checkpoint they entered and prevented them using West Bank buses alongside Israelis.
The European Union has voiced harsh criticism of Israeli settlements.
Israel’s largely ceremonial president, Reuven Rivlin, commended the about-turn on bus segregation saying that such separation between Israelis and Arabs would be “unthinkable”.
“Such statements go against the very foundations of the state of Israel, and impact upon our very ability to establish here a Jewish and democratic state,” he said. “It is important we remember our sovereignty obligates us to prove our ability to live side by side.”