With barely an official confirmation, the UAE will attend the Annapolis peace conference in the US. The UAE was a part of the Arab League decision last Friday to attend the peace conference at foreign ministry level. However it is not a part of the 12+1 Arab Committee designated at the May 07 Arab League summit in Riyadh to follow up on the relaunch of the Arab (Saudi) Peace Plan. The UAE was invited by the US to attend the conference at Annapolis, along with 39 other countries and organisations, including a number of other Arab states not represented in the 12+1 Arab Committee. The UAE is also a member of the US-promoted "Arab Quartet" with Saudi, Egypt and Jordan, but had kept schtoom over whether it would be represented at the US-hosted peace conference beginning Tuesday 27th November (see also my "UAE and Mid East Peace" posting below). In the usual fashion, the UAE has waited for the "Arab cover" that the Arab League summit meeting provided before it responded to the private urgings of US officials and of course Mr Blair, the special mid-east peace envoy appointed by the awesome foursome of the US, EU, UN and Russia. Now replete with such "ideological" niceties, the UAE, like big brother Saudi, can travel to the ball in the US having backpocketed the soothing balm of "Arab unity" and support for the "Palestinian brethren", and having played their part in ensuring that Syria was not left on the shelf, even if no-one is really that interested in trying to make them a full partner in the process.
The UAE knows that the journey from Madrid back in 1991, to the Arab Quartet formed last year, has put it in a potentially more exposed position on the Palestine Question than hiding, virgin-like, behind the vanity partition that the shibboleths of "Arab solidarity" allow. A UAE ex-minister told me recently that the Arab Quartet was founded as a "facilitator" for the peace process, and that it is pushing (via the US) for "light at the end of the tunnel" for the Palestinians. If the conference in the US leads to any meaningful interim steps on the ground (ala the resurrected "Roadmap"), and serious efforts at resolving final status issues between Israel and the Palestinians, then the Saudis and the UAE know that they will be expected by the US to meet with Israel periodically at such international summits in order to give their blessing to progress and Palestinian compromise, and to hold out a clearer vision to Israel of what (a fuller) normalisation will look like. Moving from Annapolis to a kind of interim recognition of Israel of the type seen on the part of Qatar, Oman and Morocco is not on the cards for the UAE or Saudi. However the more they have to share a table with Israel, the more a kind of semi-normalisation will have been reached. Short of premature handshakes, much less trips to Jerusalem to meet Israeli officials, this kind of engagement is realistic, and, potentially, helpful in terms of resolving over 100 years of blood and tears.