He is described by his many enemies as Israel's most dangerous pyromaniac. 'He is a man who lives far away with a big box of matches, facing a huge keg of gunpowder which is Jerusalem,' says Ornan Yekutieli, a member of the city council. One opposition leader is demanding that security police prevent Dr Irving Moskowitz returning to his home in Miami Beach in Florida so he can see the explosive consequences of what he has wrought in Jerusalem. But for the Jewish settlers and their supporters in Ras al-Amoud, Dr Moskowitz is a hero. This week, wearing a black skullcap, he nailed the mezuzah - the box containing a prayer - to the doorpost in one of two newly acquired villas in Ras al-Amoud, as is traditional in Jewish households. The 11 Jews who sparked a crisis on Sunday by moving into the buildings in this Palestinian neighbourhood of Jerusalem unceremoniously moved out on Thursday evening, in line with an agreement reached between the government and Dr Moskowitz. But some of their many supporters remained at the site, part of the deal that allows for 10 seminary students to stay on as security guards and workers. The crisis he had caused in Israeli-Palestinian relations has eased, but the threat of violence remains for as long as the students do. For the first time, Dr Moskowitz, long influential in Israel, has stepped out of the shadows, meeting with emissaries from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looking for a way out of the crisis. Not surprisingly, many Israelis asked why a retired doctor from Florida, using the immense profits of one of the world's biggest bingo parlours, should be determining their future. It is not the first time that Dr Moskowitz has stoked the flames of conflict in Jerusalem. Last year he helped finance the opening of an extension to a tunnel running under the Muslim quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. Within days fighting erupted between the Israeli Army and Palestinians, leaving 65 Palestinians and 15 Israelis dead, while over 1,000 people were wounded. Dr Moskowitz makes no secret of his immediate objective. It is to Judaise Jerusalem (though the city already contains 400,000 Jews and 170,000 Palestinians). His focus is on the Old City and its immediate neighbourhood. He says he wants 'to do everything I possibly can to help reclaim Jerusalem for the Jewish people'. He sees the Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinian as 'a slide towards concessions, surrender and Israeli suicide'. Since 1993, through contributions to right-wing lobbying groups in the United States and Mr Netanyahu's election campaign in Israel, he has done all he can to overturn them. The source of Dr Moskowitz's original wealth lay in a string of private hospitals he began to acquire in southern Caifornia in the late 1950s. But the funds used to buy up houses in the Old City of Jerusalem have a more bizarre origin. In 1988, he was asked by the council of Hawaiian Gardens, the smallest city in Los Angeles county, to take over a 'charity' bingo hall whose previous owner was facing criminal charges. Dr Moskowitz turned the 800-seat bingo parlour around and by 1991 it was taking in US$33 million (about HK$255 million). A significant proportion of this - through the Irving I Moskowitz Foundation - ended up in Jerusalem. It is not merely that Dr Moskowitz is a rich man with a political agenda - scarcely an uncommon phenomenon in the US, Israel or the rest of the world. His importance is that his money flowed to people of the deepest fanatacism, notably to Ateret Cohanim (Crown of the Priest), a group dedicated to taking over Jerusalem. In the late 1980s and early 90s, Ateret Cohanim became a much-feared name among Palestinians in the city. Its militants would suddenly swoop on houses in the middle of the night. Palestinians maintained - and this was subsequently backed up by a government report - that the legal basis for the takeovers was flimsy. But once blue-and-white Israeli flags had sprouted from a building it was difficult for a Palestinian to get the courts or the Israeli police to evict the occupiers. The takeover of Palestinian property often appeared deliberately geared to provoke. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli general held responsible by Palestinians for the Sabra and Chatila massacres in Lebanon, suddenly acquired a house in the Old City in 1987. St John's Hospice in the Christian quarter was occupied in 1990. Overall, about 600 settlers were introduced in the teeth of Palestinian resistance. Dr Moskowitz defends himself against charges of ethnic cleansing by stealth. He says: 'Objecting to Jews living among Arabs is racism of the worst kind.' But the defence is naive. No sooner were settlers established in Ras al-Amoud this week than the soldiers who guard them started making life unliveable for Palestinians in the street, who were repeatedly stopped, questioned and searched. Jubilant settlers celebrated their victory like a conquering army. Thursday's 'compromise', whereby the settler families will withdraw for the moment, is a victory for Dr Moskowitz. Such arrangements, aimed at deflecting international criticism, have in the past always ended in settlers taking buildings over. If Mr Netanyahu prefers compromise with the extreme nationalist settlers before compromise with the Palestinians, the result will be violence - but by then Dr Moskowitz may be on the plane back to Miami.