The thing that most surprised me about Scarlett Johansson being asked to cut ties with an Israeli company she was brand ambassador for was that the company in question was Soda Stream.

Soda Stream? Does she also work for Betamax and the Atari ST? I had no idea people still drank this 1980s icon, let alone that it was caught up in the world’s most interminably boring debate.

For Israelis and Palestinians the quest to find a peaceful settlement in this tiny piece of land, only 1.2 Waleses in size, is a matter of life and death. For foreigners active in the conflict on one side or the other it is an obsession.

I’ve always found it strange that people in the West are so fixated by the subject, especially now that the rest of the Middle East is filled with daily atrocities and injustices that dwarf anything in the Holy Land.

In fact one of the few concrete benefits of the 2011 Arab uprisings is that there has been a marked decline in the number of people offering an opinion on Israel/Palestine. I know that 100,000 dead in Syria is a high price to pay for that, but I suppose we should look at the upsides.

There are still a few, such as those people at St James’s in Piccadilly who, despite Christians in the Middle East suffering one or two more pressing problems, decided to construct a replica wall to protest against Israel. Of course the Israeli barrier is a serious problem for the Christians in Bethlehem, and people in Beit Jala now face losing their homes. But surely there is an issue of perspective this year at least? How would they show their solidarity with Egyptian Christians – by burning down the church?

Still, many of the internet supporters of Israel are not exactly nuanced either, refusing to see fault in anything it does; but then the tribal Israel/Palestine question is the world’s largest proxy debate, the issue fused on to a number of other issues, none of which make the blindest difference to the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.

What’s your view on the world’s super-powers? Are you pro or anti-America? That will say much about your view on Israel and Palestine. Is Islam a threat to the West or is the wWest a threat to the Arab world? That will predict your view on Israel/Palestine. In fact so confused is the issue that one’s views on a whole range of issues will predict to some degree your opinion on the Middle East. As Jeremy says in Peep Show, ‘Mark likes Israel, I’m Palestine’.

Lots of conservatives also side with Israel because not only does it protect them from accusations of anti-Semitism, which has traditionally dogged the Right, but it also deters anti-Semites from joining their organisation. Look at the pro-Israeli EDL, which Nick Griffin was apparently convinced was run by Zionists, as if once on board his El Al flight Tommy Robinson suddenly starts chatting in Hebrew on his phone. On the other side Palestinianism is part of a broader third world struggle against the west, which puts people on the left alongside some of the world’s biggest murderers of gays, liberals, socialists and religious minorities.

All this fury burns despite the fact that it’s hard for a foreigner to tell Jews and Arabs apart, since a sizeable proportion of Israelis descend from Mizrahi Jews. All foreigners should do is encourage both sides to reach some sort of compromise along the 1967 border, and discourage politicians who push further. That’s what’s on offer now. Aside from that, outsiders do neither side any good by turning this problem into a proxy conflict for all the arguments in the world.

Tags: Christians, Israel, Jews, Media, Muslims, Palestine