Livnat stops short of opposing settlement freeze

Livnat stops short of op

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was saved from a potentially embarrassing situation on Wednesday when another Likud Party leader toured unauthorized West Bank outposts while he was discussing the parameters of a settlement freeze with American envoy George Mitchell. There had been fears that Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat would come out against a settlement freeze, as Vice Premier Silvan Shalom did two weeks ago and Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon announced on a tour of outposts last month. Livnat repeatedly evaded questions about how she would vote on a settlement freeze in the cabinet as she toured the settlement of Eli, its unauthorized Hayovel neighborhood, and other communities in Samaria. "The talks [with Mitchell] haven't reached the stage of agreements yet," Livnat said when asked about the freeze. "The Palestinians are hardening their positions, so I don't see an agreement on a freeze happening right now. Hundreds of dwellings have been approved, but I wish there would be a lot more." Rather than criticize the prime minister's policies on settlements, Livnat repeatedly quoted his statements about the need for residents of Judea and Samaria to be able to lead normal lives and his promise that he and his ministers would "not be suckers." Livnat was critical of herself, however. She said she regretted voting for the Gaza Strip disengagement plan, which she repeatedly referred to as a mistake. "It is forbidden to repeat historic mistakes," Livnat said. "We still are suffering from the wounds inflicted by the disengagement, which are still open and bleeding. Now it is clear to everyone that the disengagement was a mistake that I unfortunately took part in." Livnat took credit for a change in policy in the government's positions in court cases filed by Peace Now against outposts. While until recently the government told the courts that the outposts were illegal but the timing to remove them was not right, the government's new position in court was that the outposts were in stages en route to approval. "These communities were built by the government with its blessing," Livnat said. "They are connected to phone and water systems. One of them even has a mikve that was authorized by [former Labor Party deputy defense minister] Ephraim Sneh. I am glad that I got to see these places with my own eyes."