Jerusalem Prepares for Bush Visit

Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Monday, January 07, 2008

Jerusalem Prepares for Bush Visit

Jerusalem ( - Security in Jerusalem was moving into high gear on Monday, three days ahead of President Bush's visit. American flags went up around the city and Bush's hotel was being turned into a virtual White House.

Some 10,500 police and border police are being brought to Jerusalem for Bush's three-day stay, the first time in almost eight years that Israel has mounted such a security operation.

Despite a call by al Qaeda's American spokesman Adam Gadahn for the group's fighters to greet President Bush with "bombs and booby-trapped vehicles" during his Middle East tour, Israel police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that there are no specific warnings of planned terror attacks for Bush's visit.

Bush and his entourage will be staying at the King David Hotel, which has been turned into a mini-White House, the head of delegations at the hotel Sheldon Ritz, said in a radio interview.

Opened in 1931, the hotel is best known for being blown up by a militant Jewish underground group in 1946, killing 91 people, when the hotel housed the headquarters of the British Mandatory government.

U.S. presidents and heads of state as well as other dignitaries and celebrities have stayed at the hotel for years, but security measures at the hotel are unprecedented this time, Yaron Avidan, guest relations and evening manager, said in a telephone interview.

For the first time, all 237 rooms at the King David Hotel including offices, banqueting space and restaurants are being taken over by the White House and State Department, and guests are being moved out in preparation for the visit.

Bush will have a first-hand look at one of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he stays in the Royal Suite with a 180-degree panoramic view of the Old City of Jerusalem (which reportedly fetches $2,600 per night from non-presidential guests.)

Israel currently has overall sovereignty in Jerusalem including control of the Old City, where the Temple Mount and other religious shrines are found. Palestinians want to claim it as part of eastern Jerusalem, which they hope will become the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Roads around the hotel will be closed to all traffic, and only pedestrians that live in the area reportedly will be allowed in with special permits.

Yvonne Margo from Montreal, Canada, is a regular guest at the King David Hotel for years, but she was asked to leave and forced to cut her trip short.

"It is disturbing, but what can I do?" Margo asked. "I'm not President Bush so [I] don't have priority."

Ivan Halperin, owner of IV Antiques, located just a hundred feet or so from the entrance to the King David Hotel, said he would be closing up shop from Wednesday until Sunday and leaving town.

"I probably would not sell to the CIA and FBI," Halperin said. He added that he had heard a lot of people would be leaving town for the duration of the visit.

Asked if he thought the Bush trip would yield any positive political results, he replied: "With the success they had in the past, I don't think so. But who knows? It's politics."

Bush is hoping to energize the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process, launched at the U.S.-backed Annapolis conference at the end of November. He is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas separately.

Across the street from the hotel, Norris Lineweaver, director general of the Jerusalem International YMCA, said they were used to the inconveniences. The YMCA's 152-foot observation tower is a favorite lookout for security services when dignitaries are in town, he said.

Lineweaver's main concern is that the parents of the 140 Jewish, Arab and international toddlers who attend the preschool at the YMCA will be able to pick up their children, he said.

"[We're] used to this," Lineweaver said. "Of course having the president of the United States is rather unusual - a comet that comes through about once every seven years."

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