Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.
(photo credit: MESHULAM LEVY, BESA CENTER)
There is no separation of Palestinians and Israelis on the public transportation system in the West Bank, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Wednesday after he rescinded a controversial travel ban.
“There is no separation between Jews and Arabs on the public transportation system in Judea and Samaria,” the defense minister said. “We did not hold a discussion on that. We didn’t make such a decision and we don’t plan on making such a decision.”
He explained that he had ordered a pilot program to address security issues that related to the fact that there was no oversight system to ensure that Palestinians who work within the pre-1967 lines in Israel return home at the end of the day.
The pilot program, he said, was limited to four crossings in Judea and Samaria.
“Every well-run and responsible country, particularly those with sensitive security issues, check people as they enter and exit,” Ya’alon said.
“That is all we were talking about. We weren’t talking about anything else,” he said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered Ya’alon to shelve a controversial pilot program – which in its execution – would have prevented Palestinian workers from traveling home on Israeli buses in the West Bank after working in the country’s center.
“The proposals are unacceptable to the prime minister. He spoke to the defense minister this morning and it was decided to shelve the entire program,” a senior official in the PMO told The Jerusalem Post.
Ya’alon had just taken a decision on Tuesday to begin the three month pilot program.
The decision, which was widely publicized on Wednesday morning, appeared to have caught a number of people by surprise including Netanyahu and Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Bayit Yehudi).
The latter had started a speech in defense of the program in the Knesset plenum, when MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) told him that it had been canceled.
Earlier in the morning, Meretz Party head Zahava Gal-On attacked the pilot program stating: “This is what apartheid looks like. There is no other polite definition, that could fall more pleasantly on one’s ears.”
But Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Mesika said it was a necessary measure to prevent a terror attack in Tel Aviv. “When the next terror attack occurs in Tel Aviv, the left will have only themselves to blame,” Mesika said.
His council and its settler leaders had long urged the Defense Ministry to tackle the problem of Palestinian workers using Israeli buses in the West Bank to travel home at the end of the day.
Under a system set in place two year ago, Palestinians with work permits who live in the West Bank but work in areas of the country within the pre-1967 lines, must use certain crossings in the security barrier, where bus lines do not exist.
But West Bank Palestinians can head home through any crossing, a move which allows them to make use of Israeli public bus lines that travel to the settlements, but which have stops near their homes.
Mesika has warned that such a system endangers travel on the buses. It also made it more difficult for the security services to deal with Palestinians – particularly those involved in terrorist activities – who had illegally entered areas of Israel over the pre-1967 lines.
The pilot program would not have affected all Palestinians and was limited to four checkpoints in the center of the country.
At present Palestinians who enter Israel through those passageways take Israeli buses homes, because they allow for easier travel routes.
The technicalities of the program which would have kept Palestinians from using central West Bank Israeli bus lines and forced them to rely on Palestinian-only transportation.
It had drawn sharp protests from Left-wing politicians and activists.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who heads the Zionist Union party, said, “the separation of Palestinians and Israelis from public bus lines is an unnecessary humiliation. It is also a stain on the face of the state of Israel and its citizens.”
He added that at “this sensitive time it would be better to avoid steps which tarnish Israel’s name and reputation.”
“It only adds fuel to the fire of hate against Israel in the world,” Herzog said. “This is yet another mistake by the prime minister who lent his hand to this unfortunate decision, which has no bearing on the country’s security.” Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.