I first started working on Palestinian revolutionary groups as an intelligence analyst in the Australian Joint Intelligence Organisation in 1972. The worst incident I covered that year was the September 1972 death of 11 Israelis at the Munich Olympics at the hands of the militant Palestinian group, Black September.
That was an atypical incident as the main Palestinian focus at that time was hijacking of passenger aircraft. Most of the hijacks were intended to gain publicity and did not usually end in deaths among the crew or passengers.
There were many different militant Palestinian groups with competing agendas, some more violent than others, but a common aim was to try and secure recognition for a Palestinian state. They worked on the reasonable assumption that if they made enough of a nuisance of themselves internationally, they would eventually achieve international recognition.
To some extent they succeeded with the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). They resulted in the PLO's recognition of Israel, and Israel's recognition of the PLO as representative of the Palestinian people. The Accords were intended to start a peace process aimed at fulfilling the "right of the Palestinian people to self-determination." Palestinians agreed to stop engaging in international terrorism, a commitment they have largely adhered to.
The Oslo Accords created a Palestinian Authority tasked with limited self-governance of parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and acknowledged the PLO as Israel's interlocutor in future negotiations. These were to include issues related to security, borders, water rights, control of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, Palestinian freedom of movement, and Palestinian right of return.
They did not create a Palestinian state, but the state was eventually recognised in 2012 by 138 of the 193 UN members, and given non-member observer status in the UN. Australia is among the states that have not recognised the state of Palestine. Australia supports a two-state solution but believes it should flow from an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Nine years on, the prospect of a two-state solution seems as distant as ever. Politicians in both Israel and Gaza seem unprepared to make the concessions necessary to create a pathway to a permanent solution.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to absorb the West Bank and expel Palestinians from their property. Israel also maintains control over all access to Gaza and reserves the right for its security forces to enter Gaza at will.
Expelled Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem and the West Bank have few options for redress. Israeli courts (that actually have no jurisdiction over occupied territories in international law) seem to favour Israeli property claimants, and the police and military have the power on the ground to enforce expulsion orders.
The latest round of violence in May 2021 came after weeks of rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions over property disputes and Israeli control of worshippers at the Al Aqsa mosque - the third holiest site in Islam.
Hamas, the elected government in Gaza, warned Israel to withdraw its forces from the holy site and, when they did not do so, Hamas militants launched rockets into Israel, triggering retaliatory Israeli air strikes.
The inaccurate Gaza rockets killed 12 people in Israel, wounded a few, and caused minor property damage. The Israel Defense Forces' retaliation against Gaza killed 256 people (including 66 children), wounded 2000, and caused extensive property damage.
Israel certainly has the right to defend itself (as does the Palestinian state), but International Humanitarian Law prohibits disproportionate use of force and requires civilians to be protected.
After the latest confrontation, Israel will have concerns about its internal security; Israeli Arabs - who comprise one quarter of Israel's population - organised widespread protests against Israel's actions.
US support to Israel still seems unconditional post-Trump, with US military assistance running at around five billion Australian dollars a year. The reasons seem to be the large and powerful Jewish diaspora in the US and number of Israelis who have US citizenship. Most Americans also find it easier to relate to Christian Israelis than to Muslim Arabs or Palestinians. Another factor is the very close relationship between their respective political establishments and defence sectors. The US is clearly not an honest broker for any two-state talks but manages to keep its foot in the door by providing aid to the Palestinians.
The sad reality for the Palestinian people is that they have few real friends. Arab nations pay lip service to the Palestinian cause but see Palestinians as troublemakers who can cause them domestic security problems through the Palestinian diaspora. Jordan has particular concerns with three million Palestinians in a population of ten million.
Australia's foreign policy position seems to be in lockstep with the US, presumably to please US and Israeli policymakers and the influential pro-Israel lobby in Australia. At the UN, Australia has usually tended to vote in support of Israel and against Palestine.
What is surprising is that Israelis, whose Jewish forebears have suffered so much at the hands of others, cannot see parallels in their discriminatory treatment of Israeli Arabs and the maintenance of what is effectively an apartheid system to control the Palestinians.
- Clive Williams is a visiting professor at the ANU's Centre for Military and Security Law and the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre.