The indefatigable US Secretary of State John Kerry is slated to return to the region this week in yet another push to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. And Kerry’s visit seems to coincide with a certain softening of stances, at least according to selected media reports.

Channel 2 reported on Monday that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was prepared to return to the negotiating table without any preconditions.

Until now the Palestinians have demanded a settlement freeze, the release of Palestinian prisoners and assurances that the borders of a future Palestinian will be based on the 1949 Armistice lines.

Ma’ariv reported that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu might be willing to make concessions to facilitate the beginning of direct negotiations with the Palestinians after a break of nearly three years. Israel is reportedly willing to impose a limited building freeze outside major settlement blocs and release some Palestinian prisoners arrested before the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Shortly after the reports, based on unnamed sources, however, both sides were quick to dampen expectations.

Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the PLO, told Army Radio on Tuesday he knew nothing of any Israeli gestures regarding a building freeze or the release of prisoners. And in Jerusalem, government sources expressed skepticism about Palestinian willingness to enter negotiations without any preconditions.

Immense pressure is being brought to bear on both sides by the Americans who do not want to see Kerry’s efforts fail. Neither side wants to be the one blamed for torpedoing talks.

Yet, even if Palestinians and Israelis are brought together – say in a tent placed at a point equidistant from Ramallah and Jerusalem like the one Netanyahu suggested in a recent interview with The Washington Post – finding common ground on key issues such as Palestinian refugees, the future of settlement blocs such as Ariel and Ma’aleh Adumin, Jerusalem and security arrangements will be much harder.

At a time when the region is in turmoil, even those in the government who, like Netanyahu, favor, at least in principle, some kind of two-state solution are rightly wary. The rockets being fired from Gaza Strip at Jewish towns in the South in recent days are a reminder of what happened after Israel dismantled its settlements in Gaza, removed its soldiers and gave Palestinians limited autonomy.

Unless the government is vigilant, the same sort of scenario could easily repeat itself in the West Bank.

Palestinians would control areas located just a few kilometers from strategically sensitive sites such as Ben-Gurion Airport. A Hamas takeover of the West Bank is a real possibility, particularly at a time when like-minded Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated parties have risen to power in Egypt and Tunisia, are leading the opposition to Basher Assad’s Alawite regime in Syria and are the biggest threat to the stability of King Abdullah’s regime in Jordan.

The PA’s incessant incitement against Israel, such as the glorification of terrorists who murdered innocent civilians, combined with widespread PA corruption, the violent bullying of dissidents who dare to criticize any of the PA’s policies – including its ongoing military cooperation with Israel – are pushing more Palestinians in the West Bank into the arms of Hamas.

Hamas offers a less corrupt alternative to the PA.

And supporting Hamas lacks the internal contradictions and hypocrisy of backing a regime that cooperates with Israel, at least on security issues that help the PA monopolize the use of force in the West Bank, while at the same time vilifying the Jewish state and calling for boycotts, divestments and sanctions.

While many, if not most, Israelis believe in principle that a two-state solution is the only way to ensure that the country remains both Jewish and democratic, the realities on the ground are scary. Memories are still vivid of how previous attempts at peace in 1993 (Oslo) and in 2000 (Camp David) deteriorated into waves of terrorist attacks.

Unsurprisingly, Israelis are wary of going down that road again. Kerry should keep this in mind as he returns to the region this week.

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