Brussels: In a ruling touching on the status of the West Bank, the European Union high court yesterday said the disputed area is not part of Israel and Israeli goods made there are subject to EU import duties.

The ruling has no immediate bearing on the Middle East peace process.

But for trade purposes, it argues Israel has no standing in the area where it has built colonies and where its companies make such products as cookies, pretzels, wines, cosmetics and computer equipment.

The ruling opens the door to EU import duties on Israeli goods from the West Bank rendering those products less competitive.

The EU has accords with both Israel and the Palestinians that end customs duties.

Territorial scope

The court said the EU deal with Israel "applies to the territory of the State of Israel" and the Palestinian one to "the territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip".

"Each of those two association agreements has its own territorial scope," it said, adding Israeli goods made in the West Bank cannot enjoy duty-free access to the vast EU market.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor had no immediate comment on the EU court ruling.

But it is likely to irritate Israel, whose military maintains control over the area, its Israeli colonies and Israeli companies there.

The latter can benefit from cheaper labour in the West Bank.