According to media reports, the Jordanian government is refusing to permit the return to Amman of Israel’s resident ambassador to Jordan.1
The embassy staff was withdrawn by Israel in light of the recent tension between the two countries following the shooting by an Israeli security guard of an alleged Jordanian assailant and the fear that the embassy staff was in danger.
The legal aspects of this situation are as follows:
The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, to which both Jordan and Israel are party, governs all issues regarding the content and nature of the diplomatic relations between them.2
Article 29 of the convention guarantees the complete inviolability of a diplomatic agent, who may not be liable to any form of arrest, detention, or measures of execution by the authorities of the receiving state. Article 31 of the convention ensures that a diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State and exempts such a diplomat from any requirement to give evidence as a witness.
However, immunity from the jurisdiction of the receiving State does not exempt a diplomatic agent from the jurisdiction of the sending State in the event of a suspicion of criminal activity by the diplomatic agent. As a signatory to the Vienna Convention, Israel is therefore required to investigate such a situation.
Accordingly, as required by international law and practice, the appropriate legal authorities in Israel have duly opened an investigation of the incident to ascertain whether there is cause for charges to be laid. Israel’s justice ministry issued the following statement:
The State Attorney’s Office, with the approval of the Attorney General, has requested the Head of Investigations and Intelligence Division of the Israeli Police to conduct a police examination into the shooting incident in Jordan.
The examination will be monitored by the State Attorney’s Office, and in due course, taking into account the findings from this process, consideration will also be given to contacting the Jordanian authorities in the context of the examination, in order to request the transfer to the Police of additional materials.3
According to the Jordanian newspaper a-Dustur, Jordan informed Israel’s foreign ministry that it would not agree to the return of Israel’s ambassador without guarantees that he is being investigated and will be put on trial.
Jordan, like any other state signatory to the Vienna convention, has the sovereign prerogative pursuant to article 9 of the Vienna Convention, “to notify the sending State that the head of the mission or any member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata or that any other member of the staff of the mission is not acceptable.”
However, such a move, in the present situation, would logically be out of any proportion to the nature of the diplomatic incident concerned. This especially in light of the fact that the ambassador had no involvement whatsoever in the incident and that Israel is conducting a police investigation into the incident, as required by international law and practice.
Thus, refusal by Jordan to permit the return of Israel’s ambassador would appear to be incompatible with Jordan’s obligations according to the Vienna Convention.
Furthermore, Jordan and Israel have committed themselves in article 5 of the 1994 Jordan-Israel Treaty of Peace, to maintain “resident ambassadors” in each other’s capital.4 This commitment is absolute, in fitting with the peace treaty’s preambular assurance of both parties “to develop friendly relations and co-operation between them in accordance with the principles of international law governing international relations in time of peace.”
It is in the vital interests of both countries that Israeli-Jordanian relations be put back on track. The key to protecting this relationship is to make sure that the peace treaty is strictly observed.
* * *