JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office distanced itself from the demolition of a building in eastern Jerusalem to make way for Jewish housing.
A wing of the historic but dilapidated Shepherd Hotel in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood was demolished Sunday.
In a statement issued the next day, Netanyahu’s media adviser pointed out that Sunday’s work "was conducted by private individuals in accordance with Israeli law. The Israeli government was not involved."
Twenty new Jewish homes are set to be built on the site by American Jewish billionaire Irving Moskowitz, who purchased the property in 1985. Palestinian leaders have condemned the building of Jewish housing there.
"Just as Arab residents of Jerusalem can buy or rent property in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Jews can buy or rent property in predominantly Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem," the prime minister’s statement said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the demolition as a prelude to the start of construction on the site.
"This disturbing development undermines peace efforts to achieve the two-state solution," she said in a statement issued from Abu Dhabi, where she is beginning a tour of the Persian Gulf. "In particular, this move contradicts the logic of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties on the status of Jerusalem."
Clinton called on Israel and the Palestinians to hold "good-faith negotiations" in order to "mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem, and safeguards its status for people around the world."
In 2007, Moskowitz proposed a plan to build 122 apartments on the site; two years later he modified the plan to 20 apartments.
The construction plan was approved originally in July 2009 contingent on the payment of certain fees. Final approval and a permit for the construction project were granted following the payment of the fees last March.
The building, which was constructed in the 1930s, once was the home of the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a World War II ally of Hitler.