As middle East peace talks churn on,Israel has catapulted to the fore an issue that may be even more intractable than old ones like security and settlements: a demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made such recognition the pillar of his public statements in recent weeks,calling it the real key to peace,the minimal requirement and an essential condition. Israeli,American and Palestinian officials all say it has become a core issue in the negotiations that started last summer.
But Netanyahus argument that this single issue underpins all others is exactly what makes it unacceptable to Palestinians. At its heart,it is a dispute over a historical narrative that each side sees as fundamental to its existence.
Critics skeptical of Netanyahus commitment to a two-state solution to the long-running conflict say recognition of a Jewish state is a poison pill he is raising only to scuttle the talks.
The Palestinian president,Mahmoud Abbas,has repeatedly said the Palestinians will never agree to it,most recently in a letter to President Obama last month.
The Palestinians cite both pragmatic and philosophical reasons: They contend that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would disenfranchise its 1.6 million Arab citizens,undercut the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees and,most important,require a psychological rewriting of the story they hold dear about their longtime presence in the land.
But Israeli leaders say refugee question can be resolved separately and the status of Israels Arab minority can be protected.