Just hours before US President Donald Trump announced that he was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Jordan’s King Abdullah II held extensive meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The two spoke about Jerusalem, economic relations and Syria. The visit marks an important strengthening of ties between Amman and Ankara especially as they united in their opposition to Washington’s moves.
Despite the turmoil brewing in the West Bank, King Abdullah traveled to Ankara to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the two countries establishing relations. Although Erdogan started off talking about economic ties and security, he also expressed the “same sentiments” on Jerusalem and other issues as Jordan. Jordan is the custodian of the Islamic holy sites in the city.
“Any misstep regarding Jerusalem would cause new tensions in our region,” said the Turkish president. He asserted that for stability in the Middle East, the only way was to recognize the pre-1967 borders of Israel and have a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem. Erdogan said he would organize an extraordinary Islamic summit on December 13 in Istanbul with his “dear brother,” the king.
The king, speaking in English, said he had come to Ankara to speak about the “challenges we are facing in the region.”
Jordan said that “today more than any time before we face regional development that require more than ever before close coordination between our two countries.” He spoke about overcoming the difficult challenges the Islamic “ummah” faces. The monarch said there was no alternative to a two-state solution and that it was a key to stability in the region. The king said it was time to work fast now toward a final-status agreement.
Although details of the rest of what the leaders said in private are not known, it is clear that Jerusalem and Syria were on their minds.
On the Syrian issue, Abdullah said that Syria must have a political solution along the lines of the Geneva process and talks held in Astana. These are boilerplate statements, but the real story is that both Turkey and Jordan have offered support to the Syrian rebels over the years, in different ways.
Both Jordan and Turkey host millions of Syrian refugees. Turkey has intervened in a small part of northern Syria whereas Jordan facilitates training for local security in southern Syria and has inked a cease-fire with Russia and the US that began in July and continues in the south along the Jordanian border.
Both Jordan and Turkey initially worked closely with the US and its programs supporting the rebels, but over time the US drew back from those programs and moved resources to eastern Syria where the US found more effective Syrian allies among the Syrian Democratic Forces and Kurdish fighters. This brings Turkey and Jordan together on a key issue.
On the Jerusalem issue as well, Turkey under Erdogan has long expressed robust support for the Palestinians. Now, as Jordan fears the instability that could come from clashes in the West Bank, it sees Turkey as a key ally dealing with the Palestinian issue.
During the Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s early years in office after 2002, Turkey sought to play a greater role in resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict and also in discussions between Syria and Israel regarding the Golan. The high point of this came in 2008 and 2009, but nothing came of it. Turkey’s foreign policy initiatives did not pay off and Israel went to war in Gaza. Then came the Mavi Marmara raid in 2010 and Israel-Turkish relations reached a nadir.
Turkey has hosted Hamas officials as recently as July and some rumors said that if Hamas officials left Qatar they would choose Turkey for their base.
Now Ankara may have found a way back into the peace process via Amman. For Amman, it gains a closer partnership with another stable state in the region that shares some of its views and which is an economic powerhouse. Turkey has also proved loyal to its allies, sending troops to defend Qatar during the Gulf crisis.
Of course, if Jordan moves toward the Turkey-Qatar orbit, that will mean a break with its alliance with the Gulf monarchies. Jordan will likely tread a middle path.
According to the king, though, the trip to Ankara was “one of the strongest visits we have had between our two countries standing shoulder to shoulder.”