"Listen to the voices from Damascus and start a dialogue with Syria," participants in the Forum of the Peace Initiative with Syria told the government Sunday.
The forum, which includes former IDF Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and former Shin Bet Chief Yaakov Peri,met in an Arab-Jewish joint theater in Jaffa on Sunday evening in an effort to attract the attention of the government and the public to their call for peace talks with Damascus.
"We all know that in recent month Syrian sources, including President Bashar Assad, have been indicating their readiness to begin negotiations with Israel without preconditions," Peri said.
"They are based on the Arab League's plan calling for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, an independent Palestinian state whose capital is Jerusalem and the UN General Assembly's Resolution 194 (which deals with the Right of Return)," he explained.
"It is possible that these signals from Damascus are a result of Syrian distress, or it's possible that Assad is trying to take advantage of voices within Israel calling for dialogue regarding a permanent solution with the Syrians."
"It's possible that the signals a negative strategic escalation that will require a price," he added.
Peri added that dialogue with the Syrians would neutralize the threat of rockets from the north, stop the Syrian funding to Hizbullah and stop Syria's support of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
"The Syrian leadership isn't happy about its isolation from the West and Israel is a Western representative in the Middle East. Within this context, it seems that Assad's declarations illustrate an analysis based on home politics that will allow him to come to some sort of compromise with Israel," Peri added.
"I ask that Israel change its decision and its 'no' and pursue dialogue with Syria," he said.
'Need to open the door'
Dr. Alon Liel, former Foreign Ministry Director-General, also a member of the forum, told participants of the informal contacts he had held, via Swiss and Turkish mediation.
He said advances towards peace had been rejected time and time again by the Israeli government over the last three years.
"There was no doubt in our minds that we were talking to Syria, but the answer we received from Israel is that there was nothing to talk about," he said.
He criticized Israel's current policy, saying "it's unacceptable to have a country knocking on the door for three years and not to open it. It's a strategic mistake of immense proportions."
Margalit Cohen, the wife of late Israeli spy Eli Cohen, also spoke at the meeting. "Since Bashar announced his willingness to negotiate without preconditions, I've been full of hope. I hope they take this plan seriously and call (Assad's) bluff," she said.