Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has cancelled a pilot scheme that would have seen Palestinian workers banned from travelling on Israeli buses in the occupied territories only hours after it was announced.
The plan – denounced as tantamount to apartheid – had been approved by Netanyahu’s defence minister, Moshe Ya’alon, but was cancelled amid fierce criticism from Israeli opposition figures and human rights groups.
A former minister in Netanyahu’s own party also criticised the scheme, saying it was a “stain on the face of Israel” that would damage its international image.
The move had been enthusiastically welcomed by settler groups and pro-settlement MPs who had long been lobbying for the ban.
The three-month pilot scheme – which had been due to come into force on Wednesday – would have imposed strict new controls on thousands of Palestinians with permits to work in Israel, insisting they travel home through certain designated checkpoints and banning them from using Israeli-run buses in the occupied West Bank.
The timing of the scheme’s launch – during visits by world football head Sepp Blatter and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini – had seemed bizarre. Blatter is seeking to defuse moves to have a vote on Israel’s suspension from Fifa for alleged discrimination against Palestinians.
The Israeli opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, immediately condemned the scheme. “The decision to separate Palestinians and Jews on public transportation is an unnecessary humiliation that is a stain on the state and its citizens,” Herzog wrote on his Facebook page.
“This is another one of the prime minister’s mistakes who is giving in to and supporting a horrible decision that has no connection to the security of the state.”
The leader of Israel’s left-wing Meretz party, Zahava Gal-On, said: “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 coexist.” – © Guardian News & Media 2015