Israel to sue, tax Airbnb after it pulls listings in W.Bank settlements: report
JOEL SAGET (AFP/File)
Home-share company Airbnb Inc said Monday they would be removing listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, prompting Israel to threaten legal action against the US company.
"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 announced in a statement.
“As a global platform operating in 191 countries and regions and more than 81,000 cities, we must consider the impact we have and act responsibly"Airbnb added to explain the decision.
The company did not say when the decision would go into effect and the 200 some listings would be removed.
Much of the international community, including the US and the EU, opposes all Israeli settlements built in the occupied Palestinian territory and considers them among the largest obstacles to peace.
Human Rights Watch's director for Israel and the Palestinian territories, Omar Shakir, said Airbnb's decision was a "welcome step".
Around 400,000 Israelis live in settlements that dot the West Bank and range in size from tiny hamlets to large towns, in addition to 200,000 living in settlements in occupied east Jerusalem.
Israeli Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin said in an interview on local television that the government intends to take legal measures against Airbnb.
"We are also examining the possibility of imposing taxation on the company so that it will bear a heavy price for the decision," Levin added.
The settlements are considered illegal under international law as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state, which has proven to be one of the most difficult barriers to attempted peace processes.
Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan attacked the decision Monday, saying it represented “surrender” to the Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions organization.
Erdan called the move “an unfortunate decision that constitutes surrender to the anti-Semitic BDS organizations and is based on political considerations rather than business considerations.”
“National conflicts exist all over the world, and the heads of Airbnb will have to explain why they chose to take a racist political stance against some of Israel’s citizens," he noted.
“I intend to ask the most senior political officials in the US to examine whether this decision violates legislation against boycotts in more than 25 states” the minister said.
Airbnb operates in over 190 countries, but their site states that as they are required to comply with international regulations,they do not operate in various countries and jurisdictions. Due to US sanctions, the Airbnb platform is not available in Crimea, Iran, Sudan, Syria, or North Korea.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erakat welcomed Airbnb's decision as "an initial positive step".
Erakat said it was "crucial for Airbnb to follow 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," he said in a statement.
The Yesha Council, the main organisation representing Israeli settlers, accused Airbnb of becoming "a political site".
The decision "is the result of either anti-Semitism or capitulation to terrorism, or both", the council said.
Airbnb came under fire in 2016 for renting rooms in West Bank settlements that were listed as being located within Israel.
Palestinian officials pledged to take action against the company for falsely identifying the location of the settlements, though users themselves were able to select the locations and fill in their own details.
At the time, Airbnb did not respond to the criticism, instead issuing a short statement vowing “we follow laws and regulations on where we can do business and investigate concerns raised about specific listings.”
The company acknowledged in their statement this week that the question of whether or not to facilitate the conduction of business in the illegal settlements which lie over the green line has been a concern in recent years.
Airbnb said. “We are most certainly not the experts when it comes to the historical disputes in this region. Our team has wrestled with this issue and we have struggled to come up with the right approach.
Despite international law designating illegality of the Jewish settlements, Israel differentiates between settlements it has approved and those it has not. Those without approval are referred to as outposts and are typically populated by hardline religious nationalists who see the entire West Bank as part of Israel.
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Airbnb is not applying the international law. The international law has definitely recognized the all Judea and Samaria as a Jewish land at the San Remo conference in 1920. The final declaration of this conference even includes as an applicable reference the Balfour declaration of 1917. So we are Airbnb motives are definitely antisemitic.