UAE PM offers trade to Iran and Israel

The hands of friendship and business will be extended as long as you come forward in peace.

The foundation for the UAE’s largest city was not built on oil or by the force of arms, it was built by trade. For hundreds of years, the city has been a trading hub – and it is through trade that Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, has suggested that two of the most intractable problems of the region could be solved.

In his interview with the BBC, Sheikh Mohammed suggested that trade could boost ties with both Israel and Iran. But in both cases, the leaders of those countries have to take a step forward, and – to borrow a metaphor – unclench their fists.

With Israel, Sheikh Mohammed suggested the UAE would drop sanctions and trade with the country, if there was a real peace with the Palestinians. This is precisely what the Arabs have been suggesting for more than a decade, ever since the Arab Peace Plan in 2002. Then – and the plan remains on the table, with no positive response from the Israelis – the Saudis suggested that Israel could have normalised ties with the Arab world, if it ended its occupation of Palestinian land and withdrew to the internationally recognised 1967 borders. The sanctions on Israel would be ended and Israelis would have free movement throughout the Middle East. All they have to do, as Sheikh Mohammed put it, is “sign the peace process”.

Similarly with Iran, where Sheikh Mohammed said he looked forward to a time when the US sanctions on Iran would be lifted. This would be beneficial to both Iran and the UAE. As many have pointed out, there are long-standing ties of business and family between the two countries, and trade between the two could be significant.

But for that to happen, Iran has to want a genuine peace with its neighbours. It cannot continue occupying the three UAE islands, interfering in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq, retaining ambiguity over its nuclear programme, and yet expect normalisation with the Arab Gulf states. This is especially the case because Iran’s interference in Syria has caused real hardship to Syrians in the UAE and has cost the country money: the UAE contributes greatly to help the Syrian refugees.

Sheikh Mohammed’s offer to Israel and Iran is the same one the Arabs have been saying for years: the hands of friendship and business will be extended as long as you come forward in peace.

Published: January 14, 2014 04:00 AM