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Airbnb is removing its listings in Israeli settlements

US-based company had been under pressure from rights groups to stop listing home rentals in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank
Airbnb said the move will affect about 200 listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank (AFP/File photo)

Home rental company Airbnb has announced it plans to remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, a move that comes after several years of pressure from Palestinian human rights groups.

The US-based company said it currently has about 200 listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and made its decision after speaking to "various experts", including critics of Airbnb's listings in the occupied Palestinian territory.

"We concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians," the company said in a statement on its website Monday.

"Our hope is that someday sooner rather than later, a framework is put in place where the entire global community is aligned so there will be a resolution to this historic conflict and a clear path forward for everybody to follow," Airbnb said.

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Israel's West Bank settlements are in violation of international law, which states that an occupying power cannot transfer its civilian population into occupied territory.

Palestinian and international activists have pushed for years to get Airbnb to remove its listings in the settlements, saying they promote "structural discrimination, theft of Palestinians' land, and direct violations of international law".

"Through earning fees from settlement vacation rentals, Airbnb is directly profiting from the continuing occupation and dispossession of Palestinians," a 2016 petition launched by rights groups, including Jewish Voice for Peace and CODEPINK, reads.

More than 153,000 people have signed the petition calling on Airbnb to suspend the settlement listings.

It remained unclear when Airbnb's settlement listings would come down, however.

On Monday afternoon, several listings in Israeli settlements were still available on Airbnb's website, MEE found.

An Airbnb spokesman told Reuters on Monday that the decision would take effect in the days ahead.

Decision welcomed

Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, welcomed Airbnb's decision.

"This is the right outcome. Kudos," she wrote on Twitter, adding that the decision came on the eve of the release of a HRW report into "human rights harms of #Airbnb business in settlements".

That was echoed by Jewish Voice for Peace. "We all just won something significant!" JVP said on Twitter.

Citing a letter sent to Airbnb in 2016, the Palestine Liberation Organisation's negotiations affairs department criticised Airbnb's statement, however, for describing the location of its listings as being on "lands subject to historical disputes".

"Israeli settlements are illegal and are built on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem, and are not 'the subject of historical disputes,'" the department said on Twitter.

Saeb Erekat, the PLO's secretary general, said Airbnb's decision was "an initial positive step".

However, he said the company should have followed "the position of international law that Israel is the occupying power and that Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute war crimes".

"We reiterate our call upon the UN Human Rights Council to release the database of companies profiting from the Israeli colonial occupation. Israeli settlements are not just an obstacle to peace but defy the very definition of peace," Erekat said in a statement.

'Racist political stance'

War on Want, a UK-based human rights group, welcomed the decision and said that Air Bnb "should have never allowed" the Israeli settlement homes to "be listed in the first place."

"Tourism must not be used as a tool of dispossession; tourism companies have a legal and ethical responsibility to make sure they are not contributing to the settlement enterprise which involves land theft and displacement of Palestinians," a spokesperson for War on Want told Middle East Eye.

Israel denounced Airbnb's decision on Monday.

Israel's tourism minister Yariv Levin urged Airbnb to reverse its decision, which he called "disgraceful and miserable".

"The Tourism Minister has ordered his office to formulate immediate measures to limit the company’s activity throughout the country," Levin's office said in a statement.

"He also instructed his ministry to implement a special program to encourage tourism and accommodation in vacation apartments throughout Judea and Samaria," the statement added, referring to the occupied West Bank by its biblical name.

Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan called on Airbnb hosts affected by the decision to file lawsuits against the company in accordance with Israel's anti-boycott law, Haaretz said.

The Israeli newspaper also reported that Erdan said he plans to ask officials in the United States to check if the US-based company's decision violated anti-boycott laws that exist in more than 25 states across the country.

“National conflict [sic] exist throughout the world and Airbnb will need to explain why they chose a racist political stance against some Israeli citizens,” Erdan said, as reported by Haaretz.

Approximately 600,000 Israelis lived in more than 200 settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem at the end of 2016, Israeli human rights group Btselem reported.

In a 2016 report, HRW found that while the Israeli government is responsible for settlement policies, businesses that choose to locate and expand in the settlements "contribute to Israel’s rights violations".

"Such businesses depend on and contribute to Israel’s unlawful confiscation of Palestinian land and other resources, and facilitate the functioning and growth of settlements. The businesses also benefit from these violations, as well as Israel’s discriminatory policies that privilege settlements at the expense of Palestinians," the group said.

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