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Ariel Schalit/AP/PA

Israel makes a U-turn on plan to put Jews and Palestinians in segregated buses

The ban was only introduced today and was quickly met with condemnation.

ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu today overturned a ban on Palestinians riding the same buses as Jewish settlers, a measure condemned by rights campaigners as “ethnic separation”.

The about-face came as EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini began her first visit to the region since a new right wing Israeli government was sworn in last week.

The three-month pilot project barring Palestinian workers from returning home from Israel to the West Bank on Israeli buses began this morning after approval from hardline Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon.

It was immediately attacked by rights groups and the opposition, who denounced it as an “unprecedented” move that heaped unnecessary humiliation on the Palestinians and would ultimately damage Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin said he regretted that the plan “could have led to an unthinkable separation between bus lines for Jews and Arabs”.

“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.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas told Mogherini when they met in the West Bank town of Ramallah that the new Netanyahu government posed a threat to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

“All of our efforts now are to save the two-state solution from an Israeli government that chose settlements,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat quoted him as saying.

In remarks just ahead of talks and dinner with Mogherini in Jerusalem, Netanyahu restated his view of a viable peace deal.

“I support the vision of two states for two peoples; a demilitarised Palestinian state that recognises the Jewish state,” he said.

“I believe your recommitment tonight to work on peace and security,” Mogherini responded.

‘Unacceptable proposal’ 

Tens of thousands of Palestinians travel each day to work in Israel, mainly in construction.

A travel clampdown, demanded by settlers for years on security grounds, would have significantly extended the Palestinians’ commute time.

But it was quickly stopped by Netanyahu, an official in his bureau told AFP.

“The proposal is unacceptable to the prime minister. He spoke with the defence minister this morning and it was decided that the proposal will be frozen,” he said.

Netanyahu’s order was welcomed by Israeli rights group Yesh Din.

“The fact that numerous political leaders, high-ranking legal advisors and officers even considered such a despicable practice of ethnic separation on public transportation is worrying and should cause every Israeli to feel shame,” said Yesh Din’s legal counsel Michael Sfard.

- © AFP 2015.

Read: Pope Francis recognises Palestinian statehood, and Israel isn’t pleased>

Read: Israeli soldiers’ testimony: ‘The instructions were clear in Gaza – shoot anyone you see’>

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