The Catholic University of America

Daniel Seidemann (left) an expert on legal and public issues in East Jerusalem, believes that the fate of a particular Jewish settlement in the city could have a profound impact on larger Israeli-Palestinian relations.

29 Acres

Jerusalem's unique status as the spiritual and historical center of three of the world's great faiths is demonstrated every Friday afternoon, as Jews, Christians and Muslims stream past each other on the street, each en-route to their sacred places of worship.

It is not a fuzzy, feel-good moment, says longtime Jerusalem resident Daniel Seidemann. The worshipers are guarded, if not downright suspicious of each other. But it is a stable scenario. In short, it works.

However, Seidemann thinks that could change.

His Feb. 4 remarks to an audience at the Columbus School of Law, titled "Storm Clouds Over Jerusalem," predicted that the inability of Israel and the Palestinians to resolve the future of an unfinished Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, known as E-1, could ultimately be the match that fires up a religious conflagration in a city that has been more resistant than most in the Middle East to open warfare in its streets.

Seidemann, founder and legal counsel for Ir-Amin, a non-profit association dedicated to an equitable, stable and sustainable Jerusalem, explained that E-1 is an incendiary issue for the Palestinians because it would cut off east Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and prevent the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state.

The burgeoning settlement, only about 29 acres in size, is equally important to the Israelis, who consider it crucial in consolidating its hold over the whole of Jerusalem and having a security buffer in the east.

"Failure to engage on this issue will be the death knell of the two-state solution," predicted Seidemann, an American-born retired reserve major in the Israeli Defense Forces who has called Jerusalem home since 1973.

Invited to speak by the law school's Middle East Religious Dialogue program, in concert with the university's Center for Study of Culture and Values, and the Center for Study of Islam and the Middle East, Seidemann said that bloodshed can yet be averted in Jerusalem over the ancient issues of security and the protection of religious sacred spaces.

He called for the Obama administration to jump into the thorny E-1 question as "preventive medicine," and noted that "the conflict can be managed and resolved by mortals."