Are the EU’s Trade Activities in the Occupied Territories of Palestine and Western Sahara Legal?

Published 8 September 2017

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War that led to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Israeli Prime Minister Benjami Netanyahu said in a speech on the celebration of the Six-Day war that his country is to stay in Palestinian territories forever. This legitimises the question how the EU conduct business with occupied territories. Eva Kassoti, a visiting researcher at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut, thinks that the international obligations of the European Union (EU) when conducting trade with occupied territories are still problematic.

Practice and International Law
Her work on “Trading with Settlements: The International Obligations of the European Union with Regard to Economic Dealings with Occupied Territories” investigates two main questions: Is the EU’s practice aligned with their obligation under international law? And has the EU adopted a consistent approach to dealing with trade agreements covering occupied territories?

Occupied Territories
Kassoti looks at the cases of Palestine and Western Sahara, which she argues, are widely recognized as occupied territories by Israel and Morocco respectively. She concludes that the EU is, in fact, breaching its own commitment to the trade agreements under the international law.

The Usufructurary Principle
In the policy brief, she explains that according to international law, the usufructurary principle precludes exploitation of the natural resources of an occupied territory by the occupier for its own benefit. The occupier can only dispose of such resources to the extent necessary for the purposes of maintaining a civilian administration therein and for the benefit of its people. The usufructurary principle falls under a widely recognized principle called “the right to self-determination”. Along these lines, both Israel and Morocco violate the principle of usufruct to the extent that they use the natural resources of the territories under their control for their own benefit. Therefore, as long as both Morocco and Israel maintain their Annexation of the occupied territories by means of settlements, they breach the right to self-determination. 

To read the recommendations and get an in-depth understanding of the EU’s obligation when trading with occupied territories read the full policy brief here.

Eva Kassoti wrote her research paper as visiting researcher for The Centre for the Law of EU External Relations (CLEER) hosted by the T.M.C. Asser Instituut in The Hague. Her project focused on exploring the EU’s practice in relation to the conclusion of trade agreements covering occupied territories and its implications on the EU's identity as global actor.