Turkey ponders the price of Mideast’s ‘ultimate peace’
US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner visited Turkey this week, wrapping up a Middle East tour that focused on the Gulf countries.
Kushner, who has responsibility for Washington’s Israel-Palestine policy, met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose son-in-law Berat Albayrak also joined talks on the US peace plan for the Middle East and wider economic issues.
Among the US entourage were Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle East envoy, and Brian Hook, the US special representative on Iran.
Washington’s heavyweights are seeking support for their long-awaited plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — a strategy for “ultimate peace” — and are hoping to win backing from regional leaders for their proposal. As part of their tour, they also met with UAE and Oman leaders, while Kushner also visited Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.
The visit to Turkey was followed most closely by regional countries since Ankara’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is well known.
What kind of a support Kushner gets from Ankara, along with Turkey’s evaluation of the US peace proposal, remains a key point of interest.
Erdogan has been one of the most vocal critics of Trump’s support for Israel, particularly the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, saying that Washington has lost its role as mediator in the Middle East by recognizing the city as Israel’s capital.
“The US has chosen to be part of the problem rather than the solution,” Erdogan said last May, days before he hosted a summit of Muslim leaders in Istanbul.
Kushner’s visit to Turkey is significant in two aspects. First, it gave the NATO allies a chance to once again exchange views on regional issues that concern both countries.
Second, in Middle East politics, it is not unusual for close family members of leaders to follow up with second-track diplomacy.
The meeting between the two sons-in law, Kushner and Albayrak, should be seen in this light. Both men played a crucial role in arranging the last series of talks between Erdogan and Trump. While the US president is widely expected to visit Turkey this year, his son-in-law’s tour has given the US an opportunity to “test the waters” in Turkey.
Although Kushner’s three-hour meeting with Erdogan ended without an official statement, a range of bilateral issues, including the creation of a “safe zone” in Syria, are thought to have been discussed. Turkey wants a sanctuary in northern Syria, which it would control, to serve as a temporary refuge for those who have fled to the Turkish border. However, Washington objects to the idea of Ankara having sole responsibility for the zone because of its concern for US Kurdish allies.
The talks also came weeks after Erdogan told a delegation of Arab deputies of Israel’s Knesset that Turkey would not abandon the Palestinian cause.
The creation of Israel in 1948 was a turning point for Turkey as well as the region. Although Ankara originally opposed the partition of Palestine over fears of a communist takeover in that country, it was the first Muslim country to recognize the Israeli state. Turkey and Israel developed close military and strategic ties after the 1993 Oslo Accords.
Today, Kushner is pushing a peace proposal built on “a lot of the efforts in the past,” including the Oslo agreement. The plan will require concessions from both sides. Israel considers all of Jerusalem its “eternal and undivided capital” — a status not recognized internationally — while Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state.
Although the larger regional context has brought Israel, the US and Turkey together in the past, tensions over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Syrian war continue to be a source of division.
What kind of a support Kushner gets from Ankara, along with Turkey’s evaluation of the US peace proposal, remains a key point of interest. Ankara’s stance will be significant since both Tel Aviv and Washington are acutely aware that the Turkish position on Palestine is supported by its regional neighbors.
- Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey's relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz