On more than one occasion I have been taken to task for referring to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians as being akin to the years of apartheid rule in South Africa.

Having just returned from the Palestinian Territories, any lingering doubts I or the members of the European Parliament delegation that I accompanied had about the extent of Israel's system of segregation and control have well and truly vanished. They have been erased as completely as the Palestinian communities that once thrived across this region but where now the visitor will only find ghost towns.

This short column does not allow the space to fully elaborate on how this process is being callously and often brutally implemented, but I will be writing more, so incensed am I that such flagrant abuses of human rights are being carried out by a country that calls itself democratic. That the international community continues also to look the other way is only marginally less of an outrage.

Never could I have imagined that in such a comparatively short space of time since I last visited that this process of separation -hafrada in Hebrew - would be so comprehensively consolidated.

Arriving now is to encounter a place of walls, barriers, checkpoints and above all separate roads along which Palestinians and those Israelis who have moved onto settlements illegal under international law now travel. This settlement construction has increased fourfold in the last few years alone. For Palestinians faced with this situation, access to land, electricity, water, legal rights and work are inextricably bound up with Israeli imposed apartheid.

Palestinians today are like the collective survivors of a stricken diving bell whose air supply has been cut off. At every turn their life support mechanisms are cynically and systematically being taken away. All of this means that the physical divide between both sides is greater than it has ever been.

Speed is now of the essence in finding a response that will rectify this. That much at least is agreed among reasonable Israeli and Palestinian voices. Be they former Israeli diplomats who are now opposition politicians serving in the Knesset or Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, those I spoke with had a common and crystal clear message. Time they stress is running out to find a peaceful solution before extremists on both sides fully begin to call the shots.

For many Israelis there is a genuine fear that the marginal politics espoused by extremists in their society have now become main stream. For their part, Palestinians sense that given current Israeli settlement expansion, any further delay in the search for a two state solution means they will have little land left worth calling a state. Never in decades of following events here have I encountered such a sense of urgency from concerned Israelis and Palestinians.

This, they told me, is a moment like never before for the international community to make its presence felt on the apartheid government of Benjamin Netanyahu