Israel's foreign minister Yair Lapid has said the country needs to engage in a peace dialogue with the Palestinians to counter international accusations of being an apartheid state, but admits there is little prospect of such a scenario due to the make-up of the current Israeli government.
Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem, Mr Lapid warned that 2022 was likely to witness a diplomatic push by the Palestinians and their supporters to label Israel an apartheid state, an allegation he described as a "despicable lie by a bunch of anti-Semites".
He predicted that Israeli sports and culture would be the first target of the campaign, with efforts to remove Israel from international competitions.
According to the assessment from the Israeli foreign ministry, Israel may be designated an apartheid state by the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Security Council or one of the international courts.
Last year, Human Rights Watch accused Israeli officials of committing the crimes of apartheid and persecution – the first major international rights body to level such allegations.
Mr Lapid's comments came a few days after defence minister Benny Gantz held talks with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, focused on security and economic issues. The talks were criticised by right-wing members of Israel's coalition.
Mr Lapid suggested that engaging in a peace process with the Palestinians on the basis of the “two states for two peoples” formula would benefit Israel’s standing.
“Without peace talks with the Palestinians the danger of Israel being defined as an apartheid state will only grow worse. We need to be careful of a situation in which the world says that the Palestinians are advocating peace negotiations and Israel is refusing,” he warned.
But he said that at the same time as talking about advancing negotiations, the Palestinians are also filing lawsuits against Israel at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The Israeli coalition headed by prime minister Naftali Bennett is comprised of eight disparate parties from across the political spectrum. In order to prevent the government imploding it was decided to essentially freeze the situation in the occupied West Bank, with no moves towards Israeli annexation and no peace talks with the Palestinians.
Mr Lapid is head of the centrist Yesh Atid and is set to replace Naftali Bennett, who opposes any territorial compromise, as prime minister in August 2023.
However, he noted that the fragility of the coalition, which has a parliamentary majority of one, precludes the option of engaging in a peace process.
“I think that it is good that the person who is currently foreign minister and will be prime minister in August 2023 is a person who believes in the two-state solution. But even after the alternating premiership arrangement is implemented, the composition of the coalition will remain the same and I will honour every agreement I reached with my partners,” he said.