Actress Scarlett Johansson has been thinking hard, though perhaps not too clearly, about the Middle East. Source: Bonham/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg
Actress Scarlett Johansson has been thinking hard, though perhaps not too clearly, about the Middle East. Source: Bonham/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

There's a lot that Scarlett Johansson doesn't understand about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The actress got caught up in the fight in her role as a paid "brand ambassador" for SodaStream, which makes some of its home-carbonation machines in an Israeli settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, territory Palestinians aspire to make part of a future state.

Johansson calls the plant, in the settlement of Maale Adumim, "a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine." But there is no Palestine yet, in large part because of Maale Adumim and the other 130 Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank. They were established precisely for the purpose of preventing the Palestinians from ever gaining meaningful control over the West Bank.

So far, the plan is working. The peace deal U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to negotiate is widely thought to envision Israel annexing settlements closest to its border and evacuating the rest. But even if conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were disposed to dismantle settlements, agreeing to it would endanger his hold on power because the right-wing members of his governing coalition would bolt.

These are the reasons the U.S. calls settlements "obstacles" to peace.

It's true that if a peace agreement could be reached, Maale Adumim almost surely would be among the settlements annexed to Israel. That, however, doesn't make the place any more palatable to Palestinians. In fact, it is particularly loathed. It was strategically located as part of an effort to cut the West Bank in two and thus weaken any future Palestinian state.

Johansson and SodaStream Chief Executive Officer Daniel Birnbaum cite the employment of Palestinian workers at the Maale Adumim plant as evidence of its beneficence. And sure, those workers must be glad to have the jobs. Under the occupation, the Palestinian economy has been crippled by Israeli restrictions. Some, having to do with security, are reasonable; others, favoring Israelis businesses and settlements, are not. In any case, it's safe to assume that SodaStream's Palestinian workers would prefer unemployment and independence over jobs and the occupation.

When Johansson's affiliation with Maale Adumim put her in conflict with Oxfam, for whom she had helped raise money for years, she split from the charity, offering an explanation that, again, revealed her misapprehensions about what's what in the Holy Land. In a statement, Johansson said she disagreed with Oxfam's position on the "boycott, divestment and sanctions movement." Although Oxfam does oppose trade with Israeli settlements such as Maale Adumim, the BDS movement is aimed at Israel itself, and Oxfam doesn't support it.

What it boils down to is this:

One can be a friend of Israel and a friend of a future Palestine, as Oxfam is.
Or one can be a friend of Israel and a friend of Israeli settlements, as many right-wing Israelis are.
But one cannot be a friend of Israeli settlements and a friend of a future Palestine, the role Johansson has cast herself in.

(Lisa Beyer is a member of Bloomberg View's editorial board. Follow her on Twitter.)

To contact the author of this article: Lisa Beyer at lbeyer3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net.