A visit by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II to Jordan, her first ever, has exposed the sensitivity of her international role and presents a dilemma to her government.
The five-day trip was in question up to the last minute because of concern over the Queen's security after a rash of bombings in Amman, Jordan's capital. Such concern was matched by worries about the diplomatic implications of the visit.
Israel is unhappy about the Queen's determination to go to an Arab country when neither she nor any other member of the royal family has ever visited the Jewish state. Embarrassment in Buckingham Palace and the British government increased with the scheduled arrival in Britain Tuesday of Israeli President Chaim Herzog. He is reportedly preparing to formally invite the Queen to visit Israel.
By leaving Israel off the royal touring calendar, the British government, which advises the Queen on her foreign travels, has no doubt muted Arab criticism. But it is felt in government circles that Britain will soon come under growing pressure to agree to a royal visit to Israel.
An irony of the situation is that in the years before the creation of Israel, Britain was perhaps the country most eager to see the Jewish state established.
The Sunday Times of London commented in an editorial: ''Oil and sterling deposits are important. So are invasions of Lebanon and continued occupation of the West Bank. But they are insufficient reasons for putting any people - particularly those as beleaguered as the Israelis - beyond some kind of royal pale.''
In meetings on Monday, the Queen and King Hussein discussed the Palestinian problem and reaffirmed their governments' pledges to work for Mideast peace.
The Queen's presence in foreign capitals is a proven British asset. She has charmed the people of the United States by her tours there. In Africa and Asia she has shown the British flag to great effect. There have also been royal tours to a dozen Arab nations, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain. Such visits are acknowledged to have boosted British interests in the oil-rich region.
But the diplomatic niceties remain sensitive, especially in Africa. A royal visit to most black African states would be greatly appreciated, but even a hint that she planned a trip to white-dominated South Africa would raise a furor. The same would likely happen in the Arab world if the Queen ever visited Israel.