An outline Middle East peace agreement being drawn up by US Secretary of State John Kerry will propose recognising Israel as a Jewish state, according to a leaked report, in a development that represents a major coup for the Israeli leadership but which risks an outright Palestinian rejection.
Mr Kerry has overridden vocal Palestinian objections in stipulating that Israel's Jewish character should be an explicit part of a final status accord, the conservative Israeli newspaper 'Maariv' reported.
He is expected to present a copy of the so-called framework agreement to Benjamin Netanyahu when the Israeli prime minister visits Washington early next month to meet President Barack Obama and address the annual conference of AIPAC, America's most influential pro-Israel lobby group.
European diplomats are said to have warned that the Palestinians will perceive the document as biased in Israel's favour and are unlikely to accept it.
The document – which has been several weeks in the making – will term Israel as "the nation-state of the Jewish people", according to 'Maariv', citing a US source. Under Mr Kerry's peace plan, it would exist alongside Palestine, which would be the "nation-state of the Palestinian people".
In another concession to Israel, the document will propose a peace deal along pre-1967 borders but with land swaps that take account of "demographic changes" on the ground – a phrase the Palestinians dismiss as designed to enable the Israelis to keep settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Mr Kerry's acceptance of Israel's demand to be recognised as a Jewish state is a blow to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who argues that it would compromise the position of the country's 1.5 million Arab citizens.
The Palestinians say it would also mean surrendering on the demand of a "right of return" for five million refugees and their descendants who fled their homes at the time of Israel's 1948 war of independence.
"When you talk about a Jewish state, you are talking about the end of any solution for Palestinian refugees – do you think any Palestinian can accept this?" Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official and former foreign minister, told journalists in a recent briefing in Ramallah.
"If Mr Kerry thinks this is the sum of his brilliant intelligence, the document will go nowhere. It's impossible for the Palestinians to sign such an agreement with Israel."
Palestinian officials point out that Egypt and Jordan signed peace deals with Israel without directly recognising its Jewishness. Mr Netanyahu, by contrast, has called the issue the biggest single obstacle to an accord and has made it the central point in his talks with Mr Kerry. (© Daily Telegraph, London)