Airbnb to stop listing properties in West Bank settlements

Airbnb announced Monday that it will remove home rental listings located in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The U.S.-based company noted in a statement that the settlements, which are considered illegal by the United Nations and other world powers, are “at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”

“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 on its website.

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Airbnb’s announcement comes one day before Human Rights Watch is set to publish a report on the effects of the company operating in settlements, according to the group’s executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division.

In the past, the company defended its decision to operate in the West Bank, which is home to about 2.6 million Palestinians and 500,000 Israelis living in settlements. But Airbnb says it has “spent considerable time speaking to various experts” and changed its approach.

“We know that people will disagree with this decision and appreciate their perspective,” the company said. “This is a controversial issue. There are many strong views as it relates to lands that have been the subject of historic and intense disputes between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank.”

Airbnb also listed a new five-step framework for how it will evaluate listings in disputed territories going forward, which includes evaluating “whether the existence of listings is contributing to existing human suffering.”

The move will affect about 200 listings, according to the statement. The company operates in more than 81,000 cities in 191 countries.

“We must consider the impact we have and act responsibly,” the company said in the statement.

Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan urged Airbnb hosts affected by the new policy to file lawsuits against the company, citing anti-boycott laws in Israel, according to Haaretz. Erdan also said that he is exploring whether the move violates anti-boycott laws.

“National conflicts exist throughout the world and Airbnb will need to explain why they chose a racist political stance against some Israeli citizens,” Erdan said.

Oded Revivi, mayor of the West Bank settlement of Efrat and member of the Yesha Council of settlements, criticized the company’s decision in a statement to Reuters.

“When they make such a decision, they get involved with politics, which ... is going to defeat the actual purpose of the enterprise itself,” Revivi said.

Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren also criticized the decision and urged a boycott of Airbnb, tweeting that the policy is “the very definition of anti-Semitism.”

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat issued a statement praising Airbnb’s decision as an “initial positive step,” but said the company should have also declared that the settlements “are illegal and constitute war crimes.”

“Israeli settlements are not just an obstacle to peace but defy the very definition of peace,” Erekat said.

Updated at 3:09 p.m.