Airbnb is rescinding its plan to bar listings in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The home-sharing company announced in November that it would remove approximately 200 listings in Israeli settlements, which are in a territory disputed by Palestinians. Airbnb said it will now allow those properties to be listed, but will donate any of its profits from the West Bank to humanitarian aid organizations.
The company said it will also apply the same approach in other disputed territories in the world, including South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
“We have always sought to bring people together and will continue to work with our community to achieve this goal,” Airbnb said.
Some groups like Human Rights Watch had hailed Airbnb’s plan to remove the listings in Israeli settlements, which are considered illegal by the United Nations. But Israeli leaders condemned the move.
The San Francisco-based company was sued in U.S. federal court by 12 dual U.S.-Israeli citizens who own homes in the settlements. Airbnb’s reversal settles that case, says Tel Aviv-based Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center, an Israeli advocacy group that backed the suit.
“As a provider of a service to the public, Airbnb is not permitted to refuse to provide services to selected religious groups to engineer who it thinks should be allowed to live where,” said Robert Tolchin, an attorney for the plaintiffs, in a statement provided by the law center. “We are gratified that the legal process has worked and that as a result of the case we filed Airbnb came to recognize the mistake it had made.”
The plan didn’t affect approximately 20,000 other listings throughout Israel, including listings in other disputed areas like east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Airbnb announced its reversal late today Israeli time, in the midst of the country’s national elections.
Even after its announcement in November, Airbnb had slow-walked the decision. Listings in Israeli settlements continued to be available on its site, and visitors could book them well into the future. In a January blog post, the company said it was working with experts to identify precise boundaries “and ensure that our technological solutions attend to the relevant details.”
Political and legal pressure kept mounting. Amnesty International was among those pressuring the company to go even further and ban listings in east Jerusalem. At the same time, Texas, Florida and Illinois said they would prohibit any state business with Airbnb because of its stance against Israel.
Airbnb’s rivals, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor, continued to offer properties in the settlements. In a statement, TripAdvisor said it makes clear when properties are within Israeli settlements, and it uses the term “Palestinian Territories” to refer to the West Bank and other areas.
Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. Today over 400,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, in addition to some 200,000 Israelis in east Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim both areas as parts of a future state.