Dec 5, 2012

Electing Apartheid: How the Settlers Impact the Vote in Israel


As Israel moves toward another election on 22 January 2013, a right-wing Israeli government has announced even more colonial expansion projects in recent days. To better understand the reasoning behind this move, you have to understand the relationship Israeli political parties have with the settlement enterprise and the overlapping political interests they share.

In the past, understanding the impact of the Israeli settlers on the vote in Israel has been somewhat difficult. Haaretz put together this tool to understand the vote in the last Israeli election in 2009. It  helps to understand basic trends, but as you can see, it only includes information on voting patterns in two Israeli colonies, Ariel and Maale Addumim. However, over 120 Israeli colonies exist in the West Bank.

I searched for nuanced data on the 2009 election broken down by locality. The only data that exists is in Hebrew (I can't imagine why the Israeli government would want to place a language barrier between this information and the Western world) After translating, coding, and crunching, I've compiled aggregate and dis-aggregate data on Israeli voting patterns in the 2009 election by locality. This allows us to isolate the vote in the settlements and understand their impact. Below is a chart below that helps explain.

[Click to enlarge]

The chart above shows the major parties running for election in 2009. You can see three different categories: Settlers, Non-Settlers and Jerusalem. Since the Israeli government treats its illegally annexed municipality of Jerusalem as one entity, it is impossible to parse out voting patterns for settlements like Pisgat Zeev or Har Homa, including many others, which are across the green line but considered part of Jerusalem by Israel. Since this is Israeli government data, there isn't much we can do about that except for listing Jerusalem separately so as not to conflate Israeli settlers in Jerusalem with the non-settler vote.

The Israeli parliament, or Knesset, is a 120 seat body which the parties seek to control by winning a majority of the seats or by forming coalitions to create a majority. The parties which ultimately formed the next Israeli government after the elections in 2009 have (GOVT) below their names in the chart. A couple things are immediately obvious.

First, where voters live matters, especially if it is in a colony. Some parties perform far better or worse among settlers vs non-settlers. The Kadima party, for example, took the largest percent of the overall vote but a very small percentage of the settler vote. The National Union party took a very significant percent of the settler vote but very little of the non-settler vote. To be clear, the 650,000 Israelis living beyond the green line make up less than 10% of the Israeli voting population. That being said, in a parliamentary systems with multiple parties (34 ran in 2009) a significant edge among even this size segment of a population can tip the scales. Especially when there was near-parity between the Likud (the traditional right-wing powerhouse) and Kadima (what is today referred to in Israel as "centrist" opposition) in the non-settlement vote. The definition of  "Centrist" in Israel today is significantly detached from the political/ideological spectrum and seems to mean "biggest party not called Likud". Thus, while the settler population is a small segment of the voting population overall, it is significant enough to change political trends and the stances of parties who must evolve to maintain political viable in an increasingly right-leaning state.

Second, almost every party in the government that was formed took a larger percentage of the settler vote than the non-settler vote. It should come as no surprise then that the Israeli Prime Minister and head of this coalition, Benjamin Netanyahu, declared, "There is no government that supports, or will support, settlement more than my government."

Netanyahu is right about the first part. His government is clearly the most pro-settler government in history. And, as the voting patterns show, there are clear political reasons for this; scratch my back and I scratch yours. This creates an incentive structure geared toward feeding the interests of those voters in return for loyalty (i.e. settlement expansion). This is part of a cycle, of course, because as settlements expand and settler populations grow, their role in determining Israeli politics increases.

But where Netanyahu is wrong is about the future, at least if voting patterns and demographic trends hold constant. It is very likely that future Israeli governments will support settlements more than Netanyahu's government does. Yes, that's right. Consider our next chart which breaks down votes won in Israeli settlements by the religiosity of those settlements.

[Click to enlarge]

Now consider this: the birthrate among all Israeli Jews is about three children per family. If that seems high, it is because it is driven up by the West Bank Orthodox Israeli settler birthrate, which is 7.7 children per family. Check out more details on demographic changes in this infographic. Overall, the Israeli settler population is growing about three times faster than the rest of the Israeli population.

Some "Liberal Zionists" might find this troublesome, but this was all part of the plan. The aim behind the settlement project was twofold. Not only did Israeli settlements in the West Bank create a geographic obstacle to a viable, contiguous Palestinian state, they also created a political obstacle as well. Both at this point have rendered the two-state outcome dead; given Israeli political dynamics, the Israeli government is not going to be willing to equally power-share in a one-state outcome until they face serious costs. As we've seen in recent weeks, Israel will continue to be isolated in a world that rejects this system but ultimately the system of Apartheid will collapse. But the incentives Israeli political leaders continue to face domestically have them flying full-speed ahead toward this collapse. We can only pray for the quickest, most turbulence-free trip on the way there and think about what we can do to expedite the process. Here is one place to start.