‘Is Airbnb wrong to bar Is­raelis from us­ing its room ren­tal ser­vices?’

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - By LAWRENCE J. HAAS Tri­bune News Ser­vice (TNS) By JOHN B. QUIGLEY Tri­bune News Ser­vice (TNS) Lawrence J. Haas, for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore, is a Se­nior Fel­low at the Amer­i­can For­eign Pol­icy Coun­cil. Read­ers may write him at

— “We are most cer­tainly not the ex­perts when it comes to the his­tor­i­cal dis­putes in this re­gion,” Airbnb stated in an­nounc­ing that it would no longer list rentals by Is­raeli cit­i­zens in the West Bank. Arbnb’s mod­esty is com­mend­able, but its ig­no­rance is in­sid­i­ous.

Its pol­icy for the West Bank sub­jects Is­rael to a sin­gu­lar global stan­dard and re­flects an all-too-com­mon nar­ra­tive about the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. By em­pow­er­ing one-sided Is­rael-haters, it also makes peace less likely, not more.

The West Bank is ob­vi­ously dis­puted ter­ri­tory, but Airbnb sees the dis­pute only through Pales­tinian eyes.

Af­ter all, it isn’t leav­ing the West Bank. If you want a place to rent there, you can use Airbnb to find one that’s owned by a Chris­tian or a Mus­lim. You just can’t find any of the 200 or so owned by an Is­raeli Jew.

Airbnb con­cluded that “Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the oc­cu­pied West Bank” are “at the core of the dis­pute be­tween Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans.”

So, Airbnb be­lieves, what’s not “at the core of the dis­pute” is the re­jec­tion of Is­rael’s right to ex­ist that’s broadly shared among Pales­tini­ans and their lead­ers; or the in­cite­ment to vi­o­lence against Jews on Pales­tinian TV and so­cial me­dia; or text­books that teach Pales­tinian school chil­dren that a fu­ture Pales­tine should en­com­pass all of what’s now Is­rael; or Pales­tinian claims that Jews have no his­tor­i­cal ties to key re­li­gious sites in Jerusalem.

In­ter­est­ing. So, too, is Airbnb’s ap­par­ent ig­no­rance that Pales­tini­ans have re­jected nu­mer­ous of­fers of a state, in­clud­ing Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert’s of­fer of 2008 that would have given the Pales­tini­ans about 97 per­cent of the West Bank and di­vided Jerusalem be­tween the two sides.

Airbnb isn’t of­fended by ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes per se. It op­er­ates in such dis­puted lands as the West­ern Sa­hara, North­ern Cyprus, Kash­mir and Ti­bet.

Nor is it con­cerned about the is­sue that lies be­hind such dis­putes, which is the hu­man rights of those in­volved. That’s true for two rea­sons:

First, while Is­rael oc­cu­pies the West


— Airbnb, the com­pany that con­nects trav­el­ers with tem­po­rary hous­ing, has an­nounced that it will no longer list hous­ing in

Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the Pales­tinian West Bank.

In a press state­ment, Airbnb ex­plained that it had stud­ied care­fully the sta­tus of the West Bank, which is ter­ri­tory of Pales­tine oc­cu­pied by Is­rael.

“We con­cluded,” states the com­pany, “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.”

Airbnb had 200 list­ings of avail­able tem­po­rary hous­ing in the West Bank.

The com­pany’s con­cern that it was tak­ing a side in a dis­pute of in­ter­na­tional sig­nif­i­cance is based on a long­stand­ing view of the United States and other coun­tries.

A com­mis­sion ap­pointed to study the mat­ter and chaired by for­mer U.S. Sen. Ge­orge Mitchell, D-Maine, con­cluded in 2001 that “the freez­ing of Is­raeli set­tle­ment ac­tiv­ity” was nec­es­sar y if there was to be a hope of a ne­go­ti­ated Is­rael-Pales­tine peace. The set­tle­ments, more­over, are con­sid­ered il­le­gal by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

The Fourth Geneva Con­ven­tion of 1949 for­bids a state that takes ter­ri­tory in war­fare to plant its own peo­ple there. Is­rael took the West Bank in war­fare in 1967.

At that time, Is­rael’s gov­ern­ment con­sulted its own le­gal ad­viser, Theodor Meron, to see whether it would be le­gal to set up set­tle­ments in the West Bank. In a for­mal opin­ion let­ter, Meron replied that civil­ian set­tle­ment “con­tra­venes ex­plicit pro­vi­sions of the Fourth Geneva Con­ven­tion.”

Ig­nor­ing Meron, Is­rael helped thou­sands of Is­raelis set­tle in the West Bank.

That posed a prob­lem for the United States, which gives Is­rael aid. Were we help­ing Is­rael do some­thing il­le­gal?

In 1978, mem­bers of Congress asked the White House if the set­tle­ments were le­gal. Her­bert Hansell, le­gal ad­viser to the De­part­ment of State, wrote back that “the es­tab­lish­ment of the civil­ian set­tle­ments in those ter­ri­to­ries is in­con­sis­tent with in­ter­na­tional law.”

Hansell ex­plained, “Ter­ri­tory com­ing un­der the con­trol of a bel­liger­ent oc­cu­pant does not thereby be­come its sovereign


Bank, the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity runs it.

The suc­ces­sor to Yasser Arafat’s Pales­tinian Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion, the PA is headed by Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas, who was elected to a fouryear term in 2005 and has pre­vented elec­tions to his of­fice ever since. Though the PA rou­tinely abuses the hu­man rights of Pales­tini­ans, Airbnb has noth­ing to say.

Nor — while blam­ing the con­flict on Is­raeli set­tle­ment pol­icy – does it seem to care that, un­der Pales­tinian law, a Pales­tinian can face the death penalty for sell­ing real es­tate to a Jew or that two Pales­tini­ans were sen­tenced last month to 15 years of hard la­bor for do­ing so.

Sec­ond, Airbnb has busi­ness in some of the world’s worst hu­man rights-abus­ing coun­tries.

In its 2018 “Free­dom in the World” re­port, Free­dom House lists 88 coun­tries as “free” — that is based on their po­lit­i­cal rights and civil lib­er­ties.

Fifty-eight na­tions are con­sid­ered “partly free” and 49 as “not free.” Airbnb con­ducts busi­ness in more than 190 coun­tries so, by def­i­ni­tion, it of­fers rentals in some of the world’s most abu­sive places.

Want to work for Airbnb? Check out its of­fice in Bei­jing, the cap­i­tal of China, where Xi Jin­ping is bru­tally “re-ed­u­cat­ing” Uighur Mus­lims in con­cen­tra­tion camps.

Want a ren­tal in one of Airbnb’s busier cities? Try Is­tan­bul, show­case city of Tur­key, where Re­cep Er­do­gan jails op­po­nents and jour­nal­ists un­der an in­creas­ingly au­to­cratic rule. What’s Airbnb’s real mo­tive? Well, the com­pany an­nounced its pol­icy a day be­fore Hu­man Rights Watch was to re­port on its West Bank list­ings. It also was re­port­edly on a black­list of com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in Is­raeli set­tle­ments that the U.N. Hu­man Rights Coun­cil plans to is­sue.

So, to pro­tect its brand, Airbnb is im­pos­ing a sin­gu­lar and wholly base­less stan­dard on Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the West Bank. How in­spir­ing! ter­ri­tory.”

That is the con­sis­tent view in­ter­na­tion­ally. In 2004, the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice said the set­tle­ments are il­le­gal.

In 2016 the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil said they are “a fla­grant vi­o­la­tion un­der in­ter­na­tional law and a ma­jor ob­sta­cle” to peace.

U.S. com­pa­nies like Airbnb that op­er­ate in­ter­na­tion­ally are sen­si­tive to be­ing on the wrong side of the law.

The set­tle­ments would not be so harm­ful if they were small. But over three quar­ters of a mil­lion Is­raelis have been set­tled. They take up ter­ri­tory that Pales­tine needs to be vi­able as a state.

That is why, as Airbnb says, the set­tle­ments are cen­tral to the over­all Pales­tinian-Is­raeli dis­pute.

As a vi­o­la­tion of laws of war­fare, the es­tab­lish­ment of set­tle­ments in oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory is not only il­le­gal for gov­ern­ments, it is a crime for in­di­vid­ual per­sons.

The treaty es­tab­lish­ing the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court at the Hague lists var­i­ous acts that con­sti­tute war crimes. The act of trans­fer­ring civil­ians into oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory is on the list.

The In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court’s pros­e­cu­tor in fact is cur­rently col­lect­ing ev­i­dence with a view to lev­el­ing in­dict­ments against per­sons, pre­sum­ably Is­raeli of­fi­cials, for the West Bank set­tle­ments.

At the Hague court, crim­i­nal li­a­bil­ity falls not only on di­rect per­pe­tra­tors of war crimes, but on ac­com­plices as well.

This meant that Airbnb ex­ec­u­tives were in jeop­ardy for be­ing com­plicit with the Is­raeli of­fi­cials who pro­mote set­tle­ments.

Airbnb, by list­ing set­tle­ment prop­er­ties as sites for hous­ing, was ben­e­fit­ing fi­nan­cially and was help­ing Is­rael’s set­tlers fi­nan­cially, thereby so­lid­i­fy­ing the set­tle­ments. Airbnb un­der­stand­ably does not want its ex­ec­u­tives to have to worry about go­ing to jail.

Is­rael has re­sponded to Airbnb with threats to hurt its busi­ness else­where. Is­rael would do bet­ter to take a hard look at its own be­hav­ior.

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