Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said that the UAE would be willing to trade with Israel if it agreed to a peace deal with the Palestinians.
In a wide-ranging interview with BBC News, Sheikh Mohammed indicated that the country could normalise relations with Israel if the latest attempt at a peace process was successful.
“After the peace process, we’d do everything with Israel, we will trade with them, we will welcome them and everything,” Sheikh Mohammed, who is also vice president and prime minister of the UAE, told BBC News. “But sign the peace process.”
The UAE, along with all other Arab states apart from Jordan and Egypt, has not had formal diplomatic ties with the Jewish state since its foundation in 1948, which began the First Arab-Israeli War.
Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians resumed in July last year following a three-year halt. US secretary of state John Kerry has visited the region ten times in order to establish a framework on guidelines for a future peace accord.
The Palestinians hope to establish an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem – land which was seized by the Israelis during the Six Day War in 1967. They also seek a halt to expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Speaking to BBC News, Sheikh Mohammed also urged the international community to lift economic sanctions against Iran.
“Iran is our neighbour and we don’t want any problems,” he said.
An agreement to relieve sanctions was struck in November between Iran and six world powers, including the US, China, Russia and Britain, and is set to come into effect on January 20. The accord will see the Islamic Republic curb parts of its nuclear programme in exchange for access to $4.2bn in foreign exchange and some relief from sanctions on gold, petrochemicals and vehicles.
The deal is intended to lay the foundation for a broader deal between Iran and world powers over the status of its disputed nuclear programme, which Iran insists is for civilian energy purposes, but is widely believed by the international community to be weaponised.
The UAE and Iran remain major trading partners, despite overall trade between the two, excluding oil, falling from AED12.3bn ($3.35bn) between January and June 2012 to AED10.8bn in the same period last year as sanctions took their toll.
However, the two countries remain locked in a territorial dispute over the ownership of three Gulf islands, which are currently occupied by the Tehran government.
Sheikh Mohammed said though that wider relief from sanctions would mean “everyone will benefit”.