Perhaps it's the European atmosphere, or the lovely garden with the fountain and the goldfish, or maybe the politeness of the waiters. But the American Colony Hotel, in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, gives off a sense of being extraterritorial.
Anyone who passes through the hotel's front door leaves Jerusalem behind and enters a neutral zone. Perhaps this is why the hotel, considered one of the best boutique hotels in Israel and the entire Middle East, has served for decades as a meeting place for politicians, journalists, diplomats, spies, artists and businessmen.
The hotel was established in the late 19th century by a small American evangelical community, and in 2004, it celebrated its 120th birthday. Moshe Hananel, a historian, says in his book "The Jerusalemites" that in the early 20th century, General Edmund Allenby used to hold meetings there.
It is also where Lawrence of Arabia met with New York Times newsmen. In addition, the hotel hosted authors John Le Carre, Graham Greene and many others.
The hotel is especially convenient for secret or semi-official meetings because of its location, on the fault line between the Jewish side of the city and the Arab side. Like Orient House, the building that housed the Palestinian Authority's offices in East Jerusalem until the second intifada, the hotel has become the accepted location for meetings with Palestinian politicians.
"The hotel became a center for journalism, a center for espionage, a place for secret meetings, a home for authors, diplomats and romantics," wrote Hananel in his survey of the hotel's last four decades.
Many diplomats from various embassies and consulates frequent the hotel, as do members of East Jerusalem's Palestinian elite. Former British prime minister Tony Blair, who has served for the past few years as the Quartet's representative in the Middle East, is also based there.