JERUSALEM (JTA) – A controversial program to prevent Palestinian workers riding on Israeli public transportation in the West Bank was suspended a day after it was launched.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Wednesday suspended the program, directed at Palestinians who work each day in Israel, which restricts the workers to four West Bank checkpoints to go to work, and requires them to return via the same crossings. The workers would then take Palestinian bus services the rest of the way. The plan adds hours to their daily commutes.
Palestinian workers are not allowed to stay overnight in Israel. Currently they are allowed to exit and enter the West Bank through a variety of checkpoints, using a magnetic card.
The planned program was announced by Ya’alon in October. At the time of the announcement, Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank said it would explore other options to provide the Palestinian workers with appropriate transportation. It had been scheduled to be reviewed after three months.
The plan was labeled racist by opponents. “The only reason to have separate Jewish and Palestinian buses is pure racism,” Meretz Party head Zahava Gal-on said on Facebook Wednesday. “The separation is just a symptom 48 years of occupation, requiring us to be blind to the Palestinians so that we can live with ourselves.”
Zionist Union Party head Isaac Herzog called the separation on public transportation “unnecessary degradation” and said it “pours more fuel on the fire of hatred of Israel in the world.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin welcomed the suspension of the program. “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 said in a statement. “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. Such statements cause great damage to the State of Israel, and to the settlement movement. It is important we remember that our sovereignty obligates us to prove our ability to live side by side.”