Today, Israeli bulldozers and cranes began the destruction of the historic Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem. The hotel is in the Sheikh Jarrar neighborhood, a Palestinian neighborhood that has been the site of continuing destructions and seizure of Palestinian homes.

Within three hours of the unannounced demolition beginning, two containers were unloaded onto the site for use by the settlers. Security guards also erected a white corrugated iron barrier around the perimeter, already protected by a fence and barbed wire.

The demolition comes just days before Bibi Netanyahu plans to fly to Washington to discuss renewing peace talks with Obama, peace talks that ended when Israel would not stop the establishment of just such settlements. This timing is pretty reminiscent of the decision of Israelis to approve settlements at the start of Vice President Biden’s visit last March.

Only a few days after Biden’s 2010 trip, Irving Moskovitz, the Florida based settlement funder, received Israeli government approval for the demolition and at the time a spokesperson for the Obama administration said:

“We believe this is a final-status issue, and that both sides should refrain from acts that could undermine trust or prejudge the outcome of negotiations. We are seeking clarification on this and other issues from the Israelis,” the official added.

Today, Secretary of State Clinton – who is beginning a tour around the Middle East to try to get Gulf countries to support American sanctions on Iran – criticized the demolition as “disturbing”:

“This disturbing development undermines peace efforts to achieve the two-state solution,” Clinton said in a statement in Abu Dhabi, where she is on an official visit.

“In particular, this move contradicts the logic of a reasonable and necessary agreement between the parties on the status of Jerusalem.”

It’s worth noting how different this mealymouthed statement is from that of Catherine Ashton, the foreign policy chief of the EU:

“I strongly condemn this morning’s demolition of the Shepherd Hotel and the planned construction of a new illegal settlement. I reiterate that settlements are illegal under international law, undermine trust between the parties and constitute an obstacle to peace,” said Ashton in an official statement.

“We recall that East Jerusalem is part of occupied Palestinian territory; the EU does not recognize the annexation by Israel,” she added.

Sheikh Jarrar resident Nasser Jawi was even more succinct:

Israeli actions, said resident Nasser Jawi, were “torpedoing the peace process”.

The Shepherd hotel is an iconic structure in East Jerusalem:

The hotel was declared “absentee property” by Israel after it captured and annexed East Jerusalem. The title was transferred to an Israeli firm, which sold it in 1985 to Irving Moskowitz, a Florida bingo king and patron of Jewish settlers.

Adnan Husseini, the Palestinian Authority-appointed mayor of Jerusalem, said knocking down the historic building was an “act of barbarism”.

His family claims ownership of the property and had been using the Israeli courts to challenge the steps that had led to its sale.

Israel’s decision to thwart legal attempts to stop the demolition – and go ahead at precisely this time certainly makes Mr Jawi’s words look like the most precise.