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Israel hotel demolition escalates fight for East Jerusalem

The Shepherd Hotel demolition is at the forefront of a Jewish effort to settle East Jerusalem that opponents charge could preclude the formation of a Palestinian state with a capital in the holy city.

By Staff writer / January 10, 2011

An excavator moves rubble during the demolition of the Shepherd Hotel in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem January 10. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended on Monday a settlement project at the hotel compound that drew criticism from the US, saying Jews have a right to live anywhere in Jerusalem.

Baz Ratner/Reuters

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The demolition of an East Jerusalem hotel to make way for Jewish homes in a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood has sparked concerns from Europe to Egypt, which suggested a new intifada could break out as a result.

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The Shepherd Hotel project will bring only 20 Jewish homes to Sheikh Jarrah, but it is at the forefront of a broader, intensely controversial Jewish campaign to establish a foothold in Arab neighborhoods circling the heart of Jerusalem.

RELATED: Sheikh Jarrah shows intensifying battle for control of Jerusalem

Proponents see the efforts as a way to secure Jews’ rightful claims to the city as their “undivided and eternal capital.” Opponents, including much of the international community, say such efforts will preclude the possibility of creating a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem, thus rendering the two-state solution null and void.

"If current trends are not stopped as a matter of urgency, the prospect of east Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state becomes increasingly unlikely and unworkable,” wrote 25 consuls-general from European Union member states in Jerusalem in a new confidential report obtained by the Independent. “This, in turn, seriously endangers the chances of a sustainable peace on the basis of two states, with Jerusalem as their future capital."

History of the Shepherd Hotel

The Shepherd Hotel was built in the 1930s for the mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini. According to a 2010 report by the US National Archives (PDF), the mufti was a supporter of Adolf Hitler who met the Nazi leader in 1941 and recruited Muslims for Hitler's paramilitary, the SS. He never ended up living in the hotel.

After the 1967 war and its annexation of East Jerusalem, Israel took possession of the hotel under its absentee property laws, which apply to buildings whose owners are absent or considered members of an enemy state. It then sold the property in 1985 to bingo magnate Irving Moskowitz, a leader of the Jewish effort to establish a greater foothold in East Jerusalem.

Mr. Moskowitz had originally sought to build 122 apartments on the site, before finally getting approval for 20 apartments. The Husseini family won a court order preventing changes to the property, but that order expired the day before bulldozers moved into Sheikh Jarrah early Sunday.

The Jerusalem District Court on Monday rejected a petition from Husseini's descendants, claiming that the land was rightfully theirs.

"This is a sordid deal concocted by the Israeli government," said Adnan Husseini, a member of the family and the Palestinian-appointed governor of Jerusalem, according to Israel's Ynet news outlet. "Our family is part of the Palestinian nation, and we support a two-state solution for two peoples, also in Jerusalem.... Israel is making a mistake by destroying any chance to realize the vision of peace and two states. Even though the court recognized the deal, we won't allow it. We haven’t given our consent or signed any papers."

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