Products manufactured on behalf of the German-based Brita Company at a factory in the Jewish industrial area of Mishor Adumim in the West Bank are not entitled to customs benefits in the European Union based on a trade agreement between the EU and Israel, because the factory is located in occupied territory, an adviser to the European Court of Justice wrote in a recent opinion requested by the court.
The opinion, published last week, was brought to the attention of the media on Monday by the left-wing Gush Shalom organization.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said the government had no comment to make on the opinion, which was submitted to the court in Luxembourg by Advocate-General Yves Bot.
The case involved a shipment to Germany of drinking products including devices to make sparkling water, syrups and other accessories purchased by Brita from Soda Club Inc., a company based in Mishor Adumim, next to Ma'aleh Adumim, east of the capital.
The items arrived at the port of Hamburg in 2002 with a declaration by Israeli authorities that Israel was the source of the products.
The German customs office granted the preferential tariff to those products provisionally, but also requested further verification of the proof of origin of the products.
In doing so, the German authorities were acting in accordance with a ministerial order that whenever there was good reason to believe that goods imported from Israel may have been manufactured in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem or the Golan Heights, the question of their origin must be investigated.
Eventually, the German customs authorities demanded that Brita pay the tariff. Brita appealed the decision to the Hamburg Finance Court, which sought a preliminary ruling by the European Court of Justice on some of the legal issues that arose in the appeal.
According to Bot, almost as soon as the EU-Israel agreement went into effect in 1997, disputes arose between the two parties over whether customs on Israeli goods produced in the West Bank, Gaza, east Jerusalem and the Golan should be waived on the grounds that they were produced in Israel.
He said the dispute has not yet been resolved. Bot added that in his view, the definition of Israel's borders according to the 1947 Partition Plan and UN Security Council Resolution 242 make it clear that they do not include the territories captured by Israel in the Six Day War.
"In the light of the foregoing, it seems difficult to maintain that a product originating in the West Bank and, more generally, in the occupied territories, is entitled to preferential treatment under the EC-Israel Agreement," wrote Bot.
He also ruled out the possibility that the Soda Club goods should be allowed to enter the European Union without customs levies in accordance with the parallel EU-PLO Agreement. He said only the Palestinian Authority could authorize the origin of goods produced in the West Bank and Gaza according to that agreement.
Bot recommended to the court to reject Brita's appeal and order it to pay almost â‚¬20,000 in customs duties to the German government.