Intel: Why Erdogan is keeping it ‘all in the family’ as he meets with Kushner

al-monitor Jared Kushner meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak in Ankara on Feb. 27, 2019. Photo by TWITTER/Turkish Coalition.

Feb 27, 2019

Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara today on the most recent leg of a Middle East tour to promote his upcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative. Erdogan’s own son-in-law, Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, was reportedly present at the meeting, which ran for two hours and was closed to the press.

Why it matters: Erdogan has styled himself as a champion of Palestinian rights, calling Jerusalem “a red line” and accusing Israel of genocide. Kushner ought to be something of a nemesis, since he is widely believed to have pushed Trump’s decision to relocate the US Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israel’s ambassador to Ankara was expelled soon after when more than 60 Palestinians were killed in ensuing protests. 

Turkey has close ties to Hamas and is widely believed to host operatives of the militant group. These reportedly include some of the prisoners freed as part of a 2011 deal between Hamas and Israel in exchange for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. 

Analysts speculate that Kushner will urge Erdogan to use his leverage over the group to help move the US peace plan forward. But Western diplomatic sources speaking on condition of anonymity told Al-Monitor that the profound distrust between Ankara and Tel Aviv makes it highly unlikely that the Israelis would want Turkey involved in any way at this stage.

All in the family: Private face time with Trump’s most trusted lieutenant, however, will have given Erdogan an opportunity to lobby on a number of files that are poisoning ties. These include Turkey’s unsuccessful attempts to have Pennsylvania-based imam Fethullah Gulen extradited over his alleged masterminding of the abortive 2016 putsch, continued US support for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and US reluctance to join Turkey in going after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over his alleged role in the October murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. In a weekend interview, Erdogan said direct contact with Trump allowed the two leaders to solve their problems more efficiently. Presumably, their respective sons-in-law can do the same. 

What’s next: Regardless of the outcome, Kushner’s meeting with Erdogan allows the Turkish president to project the image of a world leader courted by global heavyweights ahead of local elections March 31. The real prize would be a green light from Washington for Turkish forces to enter the contested northern Syrian town of Manbij, where YPG militants continue to hold sway. Talks are continuing on the Manbij road map and a planned US-enforced safe zone in northern Syria, but Washington and Ankara remain at odds over the implementation and purpose of these.

Know more: Read about Turkey’s rocky relations with Israel here, and the booming trade between the two antagonists here.

-Amberin Zaman

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