Shepherd’s Hotel Demolished; U.S. Peace Efforts in the Debris

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The reclusive funder of Jewish settlers’ efforts to “reclaim” East Jerusalem, Irving Moskowitz, began demolition of the Shepherd’s Hotel in the occupied Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of the city yesterday. The hotel is a particularly charged symbol for Jews and Arabs: it was the home of the Mufti of Jerusalem who collaborated with Hitler and opposed expatriation of Jews from Europe to Palestine. Its destruction signals just how off-track the Obama administration’s efforts to move the peace process forward have become.

The hotel provided the instigation for the first deep rift between Obama and Netanyahu after Obama took office. On July 2, 2009, the city of Jerusalem approved Shepherd’s destruction and two weeks later deputy Secretarys of State Jim Steinberg and Jack Lew separately dressed down the incoming Israeli ambassador, Michael Oren, on the issue. Responding to reports of the reprimand, Netanyahu told aides, “I’ll be damned if they’re going to tell me whether I can build in East Jerusalem or not!” and publicly suggested that attempts to block the demolition were tinged with anti-Semitism.

In a story last spring, I detailed the administration’s attempts to manage the relationship and to move peace talks forward. Shepherd’s was part of the deal the US and Israel struck last May to defuse the tensions surrounding Israel’s announcement, just as Vice President Joe Biden arrived in the country, of a massive expansion of another East Jerusalem building project.

It is the stated goal of some Jewish settler groups building in East Jerusalem to preclude the possibility of part of the city becoming the capital of a Palestinian state. Such a capital in a divided Jerusalem is the cornerstone of the “two-state” model for peace that Obama has pushed and Netanyahu ran against but then tepidly embraced after his election in 2009 (though neither he nor any other national Israeli political leader endorses dividing Jerusalem). Palestinians say that there will never be peace between Israelis and Arabs without Arab sovereignty in part of the city. With its tie to past Palestinian leadership and its strategic location on an outcropping overlooking the Mount of Olives, Shepherd’s embodies those aspirations, which is why the administration has focused diplomatic efforts to prevent its destruction.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued the following statement yesterday:


Office of the Spokesman

For Immediate Release                                                                                                                                                                         January 9, 2011


Demolition of the Shepherd’s Hotel

We are very concerned about the initiation of demolition of the Shepherd’s Hotel in East Jerusalem.  This disturbing development undermines peace efforts to achieve the two state-solution. In particular, this move contradicts the logic of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties on the status of Jerusalem. We believe that through good faith negotiations, the parties should mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem, and safeguards its status for people around the world.  Ultimately, the lack of a resolution to this conflict harms Israel, harms the Palestinians, and harms the U.S. and the international community. We will continue to press ahead with the parties to resolve the core issues, including Jerusalem, in the context of a peace agreement.

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UPDATE: POLITICO’s Laura Rozen examines Moskowitz’s contributions to incoming House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ilean Ros-Lehtinen here.