Airbnb in hot water over West Bank listings

Airbnb is under fire for property listings that critics say promote illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

Social media users have attacked the online vacation rental company for allegedly mislabeling and profiting from properties that are part of Israeli settlements located in the West Bank, which are deemed illegal under international law.


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The United Nations contends that all settlements past the Green Line — a border drawn up in 1949 as part of an armistice agreement between Israel and neighbors including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria —are against the law and are an obstacle to the peace process between Israel and Palestine.

A search by CNBC found rentals in West Bank settlements like Tekoa, Ma'ale Rehavam and Kfar Eldad, which were listed as being part of Israel rather than Palestine.

One of the Tekoa listings included a three-bedroom property which boasted an orchard, balcony and grape arbor "furnished in authentic oriental style," only a 15 minute drive from Jerusalem for $204 per night.

Users took to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to chastise Airbnb for the listings, with some going so far as to call for a boycott.

Yossi Mekelberg, a professor of international relations at Regent's University London, and an associate fellow at Chatham House, told CNBC that while the listings may raise political fervor, legal issues could pose the larger problem for Airbnb.

He said the worst case scenario would be that someone ends up in physical danger after unintentionally making a booking in a mislabeled settlement in illegally occupied territory.

"Others may say 'you put us under risk'," he said.

In any case, Mekelberg said controversies like this could be damaging to any commercial business.

"We follow laws and regulations on where we can do business and investigate concerns raised about specific listings," Airbnb told CNBC in an email.

"We also encourage guests to communicate with their host about their listing long before a trip begins. Discrimination has no place on our platform and we investigate any claims we receive."

Airbnb did not clarify whether any listings have since been removed or changed.