How the Small, but Critical, Settler Vote Could Push Israel Toward Annexation

What would have happened if only Israelis living inside the Green Line voted?

Israeli flags flying in front of the settlement of Efrat, situated on the southern outskirts of the West Bank city of Bethlehem, April 12, 2019.
AFP

If West Bank annexationists gain the upper hand in the next Israeli government, they will have settlers to thank for it: A breakdown of last Tuesday’s election shows that a far-right party that strongly supports West Bank annexation would not have crossed the electoral threshold without the settler vote.

The Union of Right-Wing Parties (an alliance of Habayit Hayehudi, Bezalel Smotrich’s National Union and Otzma Yehudit, a party founded by followers of the late racist Rabbi Meir Kahane) won five seats in the Knesset. Given the 65-55 split between the right-wing and center-left blocs, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot form a right-wing governing coalition without it.

But if the election were held only within Israel’s internationally recognized borders, the Union of Right-Wing Parties would only have picked up 3 percent of the vote — below the 3.25 percent required to enter the Knesset.

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Infographic showing how Israelis overall voted in the 2019 election; how Israelis inside the Green Line voted; and how Israelis living in West Bank settlements voted.

According to the official election results, 185,000 Israelis cast their ballots in a total of 124 West Bank settlements. (Palestinians living in the West Bank do not have voting rights in Israel.)

West Bank settlers account for some 4.5 percent of the total electorate in Israel. But because over 18 percent of them voted for the Union of Right-Wing Parties, they succeeded in pushing it over the threshold.

The settler vote was not sufficient, though, to push another two right-wing, pro-annexation parties into the Knesset: Hayamin Hehadash, the party formed by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked last December after they defected from Habayit Hayehudi; and Zehut, a far-right, libertarian party that also supported marijuana legalization. Hayamin Hehadash won close to 11 percent of the settler vote while Zehut picked up another 5 percent.

Likud, which will form the next government, won 23 percent of the settler vote — slightly less than its share in the overall electorate. Centrist Kahol Lavan, however, barely captured 9 percent of the settler vote — about a third of its share in the overall electorate.

MK-elect Rafi Peretz celebrating the Union of Right-Wing Parties' five seats on Election Night, April 9. 2019.
Ilan Assayag

If the West Bank settlements — which do not fall under Israeli sovereignty and are not legally recognized by most of the international community — are excluded from the final electoral tally, the right-wing bloc would still have been larger than the center-left bloc, albeit by a much smaller margin. According to this calculation, the right-wing bloc would control 61 seats in the next Knesset and the center-left bloc 59. The right-wing bloc, however, would not have included any parties whose main platform is West Bank annexation.

Were elections held only within the Green Line, Kahol Lavan — headed by former army chief Benny Gantz — would have emerged as the largest party, capturing 26.9 percent of the total vote, followed by Likud with 26.5 percent. In the overall results, Likud is slightly ahead. In either case, though, the two big parties would control a similar number of seats.

The two other right-wing parties expected to join Netanyahu’s coalition are Yisrael Beiteinu, whose main constituents are Russian speakers, and Kulanu, which billed itself during the election campaign as the “sane right” party.

Neither of these parties supports West Bank annexation, and neither captured more than 2 percent of the settler vote. The fact that Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman lives in a settlement does not seem to have impressed these voters.

Many members of Likud also support some form of annexation, and Netanyahu said just prior to the election that his next government would look to annex parts of the West Bank.