(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington, March 4, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Theiler)

When peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians resumed last July, everyone assumed that the main sticking points would remain, as ever, security, borders, the status of Jerusalem and the plight of refugees.

It looks like everyone was wrong.

As the United States struggles to put together a framework deal that will allow negotiations to proceed beyond an initial April deadline, they have run into an unexpected roadblock – Israel’s firm demand to be recognised as a specifically Jewish state and the Palestinians’ adamant rejection of any such idea.

Although all the old, tangible issues remain unresolved, suddenly a conceptual one has become the major stumbling point; and one drenched in history and mutual recrimination.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly during a visit to the United States this week that to secure peace, he needs Palestinian recognition, arguing that the issue goes to the heart of the generations-old conflict.