JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called off a plan to separate Palestinians from Israelis on West Bank buses, after opposition parties blasted the idea as racist.
"Separate bus lines for Palestinians and Jews prove that democracy and occupation cannot coexist," said Zehava Gal-On, the leader of opposition Meretz party. "This is what apartheid looks like. There is no other polite definition that could fall more pleasantly on one's ears."
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon approved the plan after Jewish settlers repeatedly charged that Palestinian workers on the buses posed a security threat and were harassing Jewish women. The settlers are furious that the pilot program, which was due to continue for three months, was cancelled.
"There is a lot of hypocrisy in the media campaign against the separation plan on buses," Pinchas Wallerstein, a former head of the settlement movement, told Israel Radio. "This is not a question of racism between Jews and Arabs but rather a terror threat plain and simple... (Critics) are prepared for the settlers to pay the price with their lives."
The plan could not have come at a worse time for the new right-wing Israeli government, sworn in just last week. The coalition is composed of hawkish parties which oppose the creation of a Palestinian state, setting it on a collision course with the international community and Washington.
"The separation of Palestinians and Israelis from public bus lines is an unnecessary humiliation," said opposition leader Isaac Herzog of the dovish Zionist Union party. "It is also a stain on the face of the state of Israel and its citizens...It only adds fat to the fire of hate against Israel in the world."
Fearing another blow to Israel's image abroad and the fallout diplomatically, Netanyahu described the plan as "unacceptable" and scrapped it just hours after it went into effect.
Israel's ceremonial President Reuven Rivlin, whose job is to serve as a moral compass to the nation, said the separation plan was "unthinkable." It goes "against the very foundations of the state of Israel and impacts upon our very ability to establish here a Jewish and democratic state," he said.
"It is important to remember that our sovereignty obligates us to prove our ability to live side by side."