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After outcry, Airbnb changes policy to allow West Bank listings

By Nicholas Sakelaris
After outcry, Airbnb changes policy to allow West Bank listings
A sign in Hebrew advertises tourism in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which were the subject of a lawsuit. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

April 10 (UPI) -- Airbnb said it will begin allowing Israelis living in the West Bank to list their homes for short-term rental, reversing an earlier decision that sparked lawsuits and controversy.

Airbnb decided last fall to remove about 200 West Bank listings because they were "at the center of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians." The company said Tuesday it was changing the policy after lawsuits in the United States and Israel.

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In a statement, Airbnb said proceeds from the listings will be donated to a non-profit organization that's dedicated to humanitarian aid in a different part of the world, not associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We understand the complexity of the issue that was addressed in our previous policy announcement, and we will continue to allow listings throughout all of the West Bank, but Airbnb will take no profits from this activity in the region," the company said.

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Airbnb's decision to single out West Bank settlements drew heavy criticisms from Israelis and some U.S. businesses that were part of the larger Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Airbnb said it was not part of any boycott.

"Airbnb has never boycotted Israel, Israeli businesses, or the more than 20,000 Israeli hosts who are active on the Airbnb platform," the company said. "We have always sought to bring people together and will continue to work with our community to achieve this goal."

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who appeared to win a fifth term Tuesday, has said he would extend Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. Israel captured the disputed area in a 1967 war but many consider the settlements there a violation of international law.

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Amnesty International has argued in the past that Airbnb and other travel-related websites profit from "war crimes" by offering services in Israeli settlements.

The dispute also caused tensions in the United States, where Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar singled out Airbnb among companies that boycott Israel. As a result, the state government in many ways refused to business with the renter.

"Texas has made it very clear that our state stands with Israel and its people against those wishing to undermine Israel's economy and the wellbeing of its people," Hegar said earlier this year.

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Also as part of the settlement, Airbnb will again allow listings in the disputed South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions that are in dispute between Russia and Georgia. Like in the West Bank, it said profits from these listings will be donated to non-profit organizations around the world.

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