“Historically, when a president of the United States enters the King David Hotel, the environment must be sterile – no red carpet, no management, no staff,” Sheldon Ritz, director of operations, who handles all diplomatic visits to the historic hotel, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“We sit in our offices upstairs, watching on closed circuit TV as he comes come into our hotel – and we can’t greet him.”
The quiet, affable South African-born efficient Ritz is still awaiting instructions on that score, but doubts that conditions for this presidential visit will differ from those of the past.
Confirmation that Trump would be staying at the King David was not received till late last Friday afternoon. It was widely believed that Trump would be staying at the Waldorf Astoria, or even the David Citadel which the Americans had considered as an option, but Ritz had been confident that in the final analysis it would be the King David, which he said “is the most secure hotel in Israel and easy for both the American and the Israeli secret service to protect.”
Ritz said that the hotel is set well back from the street, it does not have a glass frontage, and there are no buildings facing any of the luxury suites which overlook the capital’s Old City and all have unparalleled and unblocked panoramic views.
Moreover, the Presidential Suite is rocket- proof and has its own private air conditioning system to ensure that no poisonous gases can be passed through it. The suite is so rocket-resistant, said Ritz, that if someone were to demolish the hotel, the Presidential Suite would come down intact like a sealed strong box. Anyone inside might be bruised but not killed.
In addition to security precautions within the hotel, the surrounding streets are sealed off during the visit of a US president, a special infrared warning light is installed on the roof, and robots are placed in the sewers of the hotel and its surrounds.
The King David has three super luxury suites in which visiting presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers stay – the Jerusalem Suite, the Presidential Suite and the Royal Suite which average out at $5,500 a night, with each the size of a large apartment with interconnecting doors, a bedroom with a king size bed, a large Egyptian style bathroom with separate cubicles for shower and toilet, a bidet and an elliptical shaped bath, a large lounge and dining room with folding doors to close them off from each other when necessary, and a well-equipped kitchenette. There is also a separate toilet for guests, as well as a separate exit, a large walk-in closet plus loads of other closet space.
The reason there are three such suites, said Ritz, is that sometimes the hotel hosts more than one president at a time. This week, for instance, guests included German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadera. Last week, Romanian Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu and his Defense Minister Mihnea Motoc stayed at the hotel, and on Tuesday of this week a German parliamentary delegation arrived, as did Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen, as well as US Marine Corps General Joseph F. Dunford, chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, plus the advance delegation for the July visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There will be no let-up next week when Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto is expected to arrive.
Ritz looked somewhat haggard, having spent the previous three nights at the hotel. When a head of state is staying, said Ritz, he has to remain on duty until he or she goes to sleep. He is constantly on call with presidential aides making special requests. He hoped to go home to Modi’in on Tuesday night.
As yet, the Americans have made no special requests with regard to how the suite should be set up or what special foods should be served.
“It’s still too early,” said Ritz. “Such things are usually settled a few days prior to the arrival of the president.”
The hotel will be closed to guests from May 21 to 23 inclusive. It will reopen in the evening of May 23, two hours after Trump’s plane leaves Israeli air space. Until then hotel staff are not permitted to enter his suite to clean up. This applies not only to presidents of the United States but to presidents of all countries.
The Americans have ordered more than a thousand rooms in total which has necessitated closing two other hotels in the Dan chain; the nearby Dan Boutique Jerusalem and the even closer Dan Panorama which will serve as the press center for both the official American and Israeli information teams as well as for the 120 journalists traveling with Trump and some 50-70 others who will be arriving independently.
The American preparatory teams will begin arriving on May 19 and 20.
They will include some 350 US Secret Service personnel as well as Marines, Navy Seals and Army Rangers.
Some of the Americans will be staying in other Jerusalem hotels but Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, will be staying at the King David along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
Guests who had booked well in advance for the period in which Trump will be visiting have had to be relocated to other Jerusalem hotels and in some cases to the Dan Caesarea.
Among the guests who had to be moved out of the hotel were the Premier of Quebec Philippe Couillard who cut his visit short by one night, broadcaster, Southern Baptist minister and former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee who had scheduled a large dinner party, several bar mitzva celebrations and various other groups.
The Japanese Embassy had ordered a lavish cocktail reception to celebrate the 65th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Japan and Israel, but had been very cooperative and had rescheduled.
The obvious question came to mind.
Doesn’t the King David lose a lot of money on a visit of this kind? “The loss in income is a small price to pay to host the American president,” said Ritz. “We pull out all the stops for American presidents and the financial aspect is a secondary consideration. We want to help the Americans as much as we can because of their loyalty to the King David on presidential visits. All American presidents who have served during this century have stayed at the King David.”
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