The recent murder of an officer in Israel's security services (Shin Bet) by a Palestinian double agent -- and that agent's subsequent slaying after a manhunt on the occupied West Bank -- illustrates one of the principal questions remaining to be resolved in the currently stalled autonomy talks.
It is the extent to which Israel would be able to enter West Bank cities to root out guerrilla groups or terrorist cells after autonomy is granted the Palestinians.
Israel insists on the right to continue carrying out such anti-terrorist activity during the five-year interim autonomy period, even though Palestinians will have routine police responsibility. (The permanent status of these territories is to be decided by the end of the five years.)
Egypt, meanwhile, insists that internal security within the autonomous area should be entirely the responsibility of the Palestinians during the interim period and certainly afterward.
[Shin Bet itself now has come into the public eye. According to a Reuters dispatch from Tel Aviv, Israel's attorney-general has ordered an investigation to determine whether David Halevy, a reporter for the Washington Star, broke censorship laws by identifying the head of the Israeli security service, whose identity is never disclosed.]
The highly efficient intelligence network Israel has woven in the territories occupied in the six-day war of 1967 is one reason for what is seen here as Israel's remarkable success in curbing terrorism.
The Israeli agent slain last month, Moshe Golan, apparently was an important figure in the operation of this network, to judge by the presence of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and other Israeli dignitaries at his funeral.
Mr. Golan was killed by Bassam Mahmoud Habash, a resident of a refugee camp outside the West Bank city of Nablus. Mr. Habash had served as an informer for years and had supplied information that led to the uncovering of at least one terrorist cell, according to official Israeli sources.
Mr. Golan's meeting with him was on safe ground inside Israel, and the Shin Bet officer had no reason to expect double-dealing. Three days after Mr. Golan's death, Mr. Habash was spotted by security forces in downtown Nablus. According to the authorities, he opened fire when called upon to halt and was killed in the exchange. He was found to be holding Mr. Golan's pistol.
Numerous Arab informers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have enabled the Israelis to round up most terrorist cells before they launch even their first operation. Of the 138 cells smashed last year, according to official sources, 114 had not yet undertaken an operation.
The Palestinian cells in the occupied territories now are far better equipped and trained than in the past. Nevertheless, the Shin Bet security service has managed to keep well ahead of them. The perpetrators of 85 percent of terrorist actions in Israel and the occupied territories have been identified and the bulk of them arrested, according to official sources.
Although the Palestinian underground has proved adept at getting explosives through to its operatives despite tough Israeli security along the border and at ports of entry, and although it rapidly sets up new cells to rev place those destroyed, it has been unable to create an atmosphere of terror, says Israeli sources.
The occasional bomb set off inside Israel is little more disturbing to the general population than traffic accidents, which take a far higher toll. In the occupied territories themselves, Israelis travel almost freely.
Credit for this is usually given to the Shin Bet, which bases its operation on sophisticated intelligence rather than counter terror. But if the Shin Bet cannot operate within the West Bank and Gaza after autonomy, terrorist cells would have a safe haven from which to foray against Israeli targets.