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Dear Likudnik,

Whether it is fate or just being in the right place at the right time, the opportunity to make history has fallen into your lap twice. Anwar Sadat's visit to Israel - an event that seems like a dream until today - would never have come to pass in the days of Mapai. There were attempts to set up a meeting between Golda Meir and Sadat, but she said no. When Sadat publicly transmitted peace signals, she shut her ears. The scenario of Sadat calling on Israel to return all the territories from the Knesset podium never entered her wildest dreams.

It was only after the Likud rose to power that Menachem Begin (in a secret huddle with Moshe Dayan) initiated a meeting with Sadat. Those were the days when President Carter was cooking up an international summit that neither Israel nor Sadat wanted. When it was decided to invite Sadat for an official visit, Begin headed into the unknown courageously, but not lightly. On his way to Camp David to sign a draft of the peace treaty, he was dispirited and skeptical. During a stopover in New York, he told members of his entourage that Sadat was untrustworthy and a chronic liar, not to mention the fact that as a young officer, he had been a supporter of the Nazis.

But this skepticism gave way to a signature, to the evacuation of all the settlements in Sinai and to a Nobel Prize for both leaders. It's been a cold peace. Mubarak and those who succeeded Begin over the years were never on backslapping terms. But it has lasted 25 years. After thousands of lives lost in wars with Egypt, is there anything more gratifying than the fact that not a single soldier has been killed on the Egyptian border since then?

And now, dear Likudnik, you are standing at another historic juncture. What you decide and what you do will change the face of the nation. After a thousand Israelis have died in the Al-Aqsa intifada, it is no coincidence that Ariel Sharon, of all people, an old war horse and a pro-settlement man, has concluded that lording over another people cannot go on, and the time has come for a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

When Begin came to power, the world suspected him of being a warmonger. But the fact is, he didn't annex territories to Israel, as he had preached from his seat in the opposition. On the contrary: He set the precedent of land for peace. Only he was capable of such far-reaching concessions.

Today it is Sharon who understands that what we don't start doing now, with a reasonable amount of American support and a president giving us the thumbs up, will be forced upon us by the international community and will exact a much bloodier price. Staying put in the territories is no longer an option.

Dear Likudnik, I don't know how much you know about the heritage of your movement, about who Jabotinsky was, and about Begin whose graveside was visited by a mere handful of people on the anniversary of his death. But Sharon's plan for unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is about the land of Samson, not the land of the Patriarchs.

That the extremists are afraid of a precedent being set by the evacuation of settlements is understandable. But there are also heaps of extenuating defense factors, from shortening the lines of defense to deploying fewer soldiers. We will be able to retaliate more forcefully and more fairly against terror if the terrorists operate from an area that is entirely Palestinian.

The Uzi Landaus of this country see it differently. They're worried the Palestinians will brag that they drove us out. So let them brag. The pre-state militias, Etzel and Lehi, said they drove out the British. If they said it, they said it. When we pulled out of Lebanon, Hezbollah said they drove us out. They can say what they like. The main thing is that since we left, the bloodbath has ended.

It's no accident that the people who oppose evacuating the Gaza Strip are the same people who opposed peace with Egypt: Arens, Shamir, Geula Cohen, Tzachi Hanegbi, who barricaded himself on a water tower in Yamit. Where would we be today if they were in the majority? Where will we be tomorrow if opponents of the disengagement plan win?

Sharon's plan is a good one. It is important that it be endorsed by the government and the Knesset quickly, while Bush is president and Sharon is prime minister. That way, future governments will also be obligated by it.

It is not the people of Israel who are voting in the referendum on May 2, but card-carrying members of the Likud. So it goes without saying, dear Likudnik, that a mighty responsibility rests on your shoulders and those of your colleagues. The rest of the country is relying on you for a little light at the end of the tunnel.

With regards, in the name of the rest of us, Y.M.