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The Shinui faction would be willing to return to the government even if United Torah Judaism remains a part of it, to help the Prime Minister implement the disengagement plan, which it strongly supports, MK Avraham Poraz told Haaretz yesterday.

Shinui's No. 2 said his party would also be willing to accept fund transfers to UTJ for "legitimate" purposes, which represents a significant turnabout in Shinui's position. Until now it has said that it would return to the government only if UTJ left the coalition, and only if an agreement promising NIS 290 million to institutions affiliated with the ultra-Orthodox party was canceled.

Poraz explained to Haaretz that Shinui strongly supports disengagement, "but Sharon must make us an offer. If he wants to begin a dialogue, he is welcome. We are not posing any preconditions. If he wants to transfer money to UTJ, we are not automatically opposed. We're willing to consider. If we're talking about support for kindergartens, this is legitimate. If the proposal is for allocations to [university] students and culture equivalent to the sums transferred to the Haredim, we would also consider that. Sometimes, you have to be flexible."

Shinui left the government two months ago over the NIS 290 million that Sharon promised UTJ. However, prior to its departure, Poraz noted, Shinui had agreed in principle to sit in a government with the ultra-Orthodox party if Labor also joined.

Since Labor has since entered the government, all that is left is the issue of the money, and "it is possible to talk" about that, he said.

However, he added, the party has not yet made any decision on the matter, and would have to discuss it first.

"Meanwhile," he said, "there is nothing to talk about, since no one has approached us."

Poraz said that he spoke with two senior Likud MKs to find out how Likud would react to the idea, and both offered him identical assessments: The faction's 13 "rebels," who oppose the disengagement, would vote against Shinui's entry, but the other 27 Likud MKs would support the move.

The addition of Shinui would give Sharon an effective coalition of some 65 MKs (Labor, Shinui, UTJ and Likud, minus the rebels). This would enable him to pass the 2005 budget easily and then to implement the disengagement, Poraz said.

A source close to Sharon, when informed of Poraz's statements, promised to pass the message on to the prime minister immediately.

Several politicians said they believed the reason for Shinui's change of heart was political: The party's voters have recently been exerting heavy pressure on its leaders not to vote against the budget and risk toppling the government.

By law, if the budget is not passed by March 31, new elections are automatically held three months later, and the government currently lacks a majority for the bill. By raising this proposal, Shinui hopes to shift the pressure from itself to Sharon, who must now decide how to respond.