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he Jerusalem municipality has given final approval to a group of settlers construct 20 apartments in a controversial hotel in East Jerusalem, Haaretz learned on Tuesday.
The announcement comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington smoothing over ties with the United States over the latest settlement-related tensions, and hours before the premier was to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington.
U.S. President Barack Obama held a one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Tuesday as Israel sought to smooth over a diplomatic spat sparked by the announcement of Israeli construction in east Jerusalem.
Efforts to restore ties may have hit a roadblock, however, with the approval Tuesday of a further 20 east Jerusalem homes beyond the Green Line at the site of the former Shepherd Hotel.
Barack Obama and the visiting Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, capped a turbulent few weeks for mutual relations with unusually low-profile White House talks last night featuring no information about what was discussed or even a public handshake. The pair had an initial 90-minute meeting in the Oval Office that is likely to have been dominated by a row over Israeli plans to build new settler homes in Arab-dominated east Jerusalem.
The dispute has seen the countries' relations undergo their most turbulent period for some years. After a break, Netanyahu requested further discussions and he and the US president returned to the Oval Office for another 35 minutes.
Neither leader, nor their officials, would comment on what was said, although Netanyahu's spokesman said that "the atmosphere was good". More unusually still, no reporters or photographers were invited to see the traditional pre-meeting handshakes, with the duo not seen together publicly at all.
Washington, March 24 (AGENCIES): Washington’s relations with Israel appeared to have reached a new low last night as the White House imposed a virtual news blackout on a meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that followed an Israeli threat to delay peace talks by a year.
The Shepherd Hotel in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood was purchased by American Jewish tycoon Irving Moskowitz in 1985 for $1 million.
Moskowitz, an influential supporter of Ateret Cohanim and heightened Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem, plans to tear down the hotel and build housing units for Jewish Israelis in its place.
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.”