King David gives a right royal welcome to Berlusconi

The Italian premier, who is no stranger to the luxurious Jerusalem hotel, is reportedly not difficult to please.

Berlusconi298 (photo credit: AP)
(photo credit: AP)
Housekeeping staff in all major hotels are constantly busy. Their trolleys with clean towels, clean bed linen and toiletries can be seen at all hours of the day and night in guest rooms and corridors, as guests are constantly checking in and out.
This week the housekeeping staff – in fact all the hotel staff at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem – will be busier than usual ensuring that everything is as it should be for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his huge entourage.
Although the King David has in recent years faced some competition from the David Citadel Hotel, a few minutes walk away on one side, and the Inbal Hotel, just a little further away on the other, it remains the hotel of royalty, heads of state and leaders of government.
The floor in the entrance lobby bears testimony to that, with the numerous reproductions of signatures of international dignitaries and celebrities who have stayed there. Moreover, the King David has a certain Old World grandeur that its competitors have been unable or unwilling to emulate.
According to Sheldon Ritz, the King David’s deputy general manager and director of operations and official delegations, the Italians are more or less taking over the hotel for two nights, plus a half day on either side.
They’ve booked close to 200 rooms which is more than the number of rooms booked for either French President Nicolas Sarkozy or German Chancellor Angela Merkel and their respective entourages – but the Europeans have yet to surpass the Americans. When US President George W. Bush and his entourage graced the hotel, it was closed to all other guests.
The preparations that have gone into the brief period of Berlusconi’s visit defy imagination. There have been so many phone calls and e-mails between Jerusalem and Rome to ensure that everything runs smoothly that Ritz has lost count. When asked how many, he gave a sigh and replied, “thousands.”
Entertaining any high-ranking guest demands a lot of coordination, and Ritz has been kept on his toes coordinating with the Italian Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Italian Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office in Rome, as well as the Israel Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in Jerusalem.
In addition, two advance delegations came from Italy to oversee arrangements. One arrived three weeks ago and another arrived on Saturday.
The biggest headache for Ritz and his staff is blocking off the rooms, so that the ministers are in one section, the journalists in another, security people in another and other members of the entourage in yet another.
“It’s like trying to seat people at a wedding,” said Ritz.  “There are a lot of things to take into consideration.
Berlusconi is not difficult to please. Basically, he dislikes goats cheese and sheep cheese. He doesn’t eat animal fats, he doesn’t want perfumed flowers in his room and he likes his bed to be made French style – meaning that the covers are tucked in at the base.
He hasn’t asked for any exercise equipment.
Berlusconi, is no stranger to the King David. He stayed there during previous visits in 2000 and 2003, and the staff is looking forward to welcoming him yet again. He is due to arrive in the early afternoon Monday and will initially be greeted by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
He will then proceed to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem for a more ceremonial welcome by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, after which he will plant a tree and continue on to Yad Vashem.
After that he will have some free time at the King David before he meets again with Netanyahu in the evening; they will then join guests attending the state dinner that Netanyahu is hosting in Berlusconi’s honor at the King David.
The King David is famous for its chocolate petits fours which come withtea or coffee at the end of the meal. Berlusconi is partial to herbalteas, and hopefully he will enjoy the rest of the meal at the statedinner for a hundred guests, where the main course includes entrecotesteak and lamb cutlets with four seasons pepper sauce.
Berlusconi will conduct a series of official meetings at the King Davidon Tuesday, before continuing with the rest of his program which islargely outside the hotel.
Although certain members of his entourage have been to Israel before,some more than once, none is more familiar with the country than FiammaNirenstein, vice-president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of theItalian Chamber of Deputies, who, prior to her election to parliament,was for many years a Jerusalem-based correspondent for Italian mediaoutlets.