RAMALLAH, West Bank, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Mounting Arab-Israeli tensions over Jerusalem, Israel's refusal to halt settlement building in the West Bank and a general sense of frustration at the continued failure of the peace process has raised fears of a new third Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Israeli security forces have rounded up dozens of Palestinian activists, as well as Israeli peace protesters, in recent months as authorities pressed ahead with plans to move Palestinians out of East Jerusalem, the Arab half of the city divided in 1948-49.
Israel claims that Jerusalem, reunited in June 1967 when the Israelis captured the Jordanian-held eastern sector, is its "eternal capital" and has been steadily forcing out Palestinian residents over the years to change its demographic makeup.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's defiance in the face of pressure from the U.S. administration of President Barack Obama to completely freeze settlement expansion has only intensified Palestinian anger.
Netanyahu announced a partial freeze, saying no work would be done on new settlements, but "natural growth" of existing settlements would proceed along with the development of "Jewish neighborhoods" in East Jerusalem.
Obama's Middle East peace envoy, former Sen. George Mitchell has met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in recent days in a bid to break the impasse, but got nowhere.
For the Palestinians, East Jerusalem, deemed the capital of their putative state, and the settlements are red-line issues and are inextricably linked.
The Palestinians say that if Israel is allowed to retain all of Jerusalem and to continue expanding settlements there will be nothing left of the peace process to discuss.
Sari Nusseibeh, a prominent Palestinian activist, wrote in his 2007 autobiography "Once Upon A Country: A Palestinian Life" that the "fight over Jerusalem is existential, not because it is a magical city but because it was, and is, the center of our culture, national identity and memory -- things the Israelis had to extirpate if they were to have their way throughout what they called Judea and Samaria."
After a yearlong deadlock in Obama's much-vaunted Middle East peace drive, Palestinian and Israeli peace activists believe Israel has stepped up the arrests of protesters in a bid to head off major demonstrations.
Despite Netanyahu's refusal to do Obama's bidding, hard-liners among the estimated 350,000 Jews living in some 120 settlements across the West Bank are girding themselves for any move to remove them and are in no mood for negotiation or compromise.
Clashes between settlers and Palestinians have increased, fueled by a growing number of Israeli soldiers, many from settler families, who declare they will refuse to participate in operations to evacuate settlements.
In recent months, serious rioting has erupted in Jerusalem, triggered by the escalating Judaization of the eastern sector to usurp Palestinian aspirations as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
The al-Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest shrine in Islam and a frequent flashpoint, has been a key point of friction because Jews also venerate what they call the Temple Mount as the site of two biblical temples. Israeli police have clashed repeatedly with Palestinian rioters there.
Mohammed Dahlan, a former chief of security in Gaza, has warned that a new Palestinian uprising could be building up even though earlier intifadas in 1987-93 and 2000-04 failed to achieve any breakthrough at the cost of thousands of Palestinian and Israeli lives.
Dahlan, an instigator of the civil war between Arafat's mainstream Fatah movement and the fundamentalist Hamas, is also a leader of the so-called Young Guard that now dominates Fatah's central committee.
"If Netanyahu believes he wants us to maintain the occupation as it is, to expand settlements and then expect peace from us, then this will not be acceptable," Dahlan declared in October.
Still, despite all the tension, no new intifada has broken out. But with no prospect of any meaningful progress toward a peace deal, Palestinian passions could still explode.
The liberal daily Haaretz reported that Israeli President Shimon Peres, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his involvement in the Oslo Accords, warned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that a new intifada was likely if the peace deadlock remains.
Gershon Baskin of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information believes that prospect is distant but acknowledged that "if settlement building continues … anything could spark it."