Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just arrived at the White House for a private meeting with President Obama. The meeting comes at a tense time in US-Israel relations. Perhaps reflecting that tension, there will not only be no statements by the two leaders in front of the media, there won’t even be any still photographs released of their meeting. As this meeting takes place, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that the municipality of Jerusalem has approved new housing settlements for a group of settlers in a controversial hotel in East Jerusalem.
“The Shepherd Hotel in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood was purchased by American Jewish tycoon Irving Moskowitz in 1985 for $1 million,” reports the newspaper. Netanyahu's limo awaits outside the West Wing. Moskowitz is a supporter of Ateret Cohanim (“Crown of the Priests”), a religious movement that seeks to populate East Jerusalem with Jewish settlers. As the Yeshiva puts it: “The Yeshiva is the spiritual epicenter of a community of almost 1000 residents in the heart of the Old City in the so-called ‘Moslem’ Quarter. This area was in fact, prior to the Arab riots, largely inhabited by Jews. It is on this historical basis that we refer to it now as the Renewed Jewish Quarter.” The local planning council initially approved the plan in July, a move which angered Britain and the United States and prompted them to call on Israel to cancel the plans,” Haaretz reports. “The council issued its final approval for the project last Thursday, which now enables the settlers to begin their construction at once. An existing structure in the area will be torn down to make room for the housing units, while the historic Shepherd Hotel will remain intact. A three-story parking structure and an access road will also be constructed on site.” -jpt