Enhancing public understanding of the origins of the Israel-Palestine conflict by extending the range and improving the quality of argumentation and evidence in public discourse.
Submitting InstitutionEdge Hill University
Unit of AssessmentHistory
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Political Science
Law and Legal Studies: Law
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Renton used his research on the origins of the Israel-Palestine conflict
to enhance public understanding by extending the quality and range of
evidence and argumentation in public discourse on a major issue of
historical importance with present day consequences. This was achieved
through a range of collaborations, media, engagement with public
campaigns, and synergies with the international news cycle.
In August 2007 Renton was appointed as a Senior Lecturer in History at
Edge Hill University, where he is now a Reader. He was employed
continuously throughout the assessment period. Renton has focused a
significant part of his research on the British Empire's contribution to
the origins of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The underpinning research —
undertaken since 2008 - dealt with two separate aspects of this question:
the political framework and aims of British rule in Palestine, from 1917
to 1948; and the impact of the British administration on the political
aspirations of Palestinians and Zionists.
The first issue was explored in the book chapter `Flawed Foundations: The
Balfour Declaration and the Palestine Mandate'. The terms of Britain's
League of Nations Mandate for ruling Palestine were based on the Balfour
Declaration, the British Government's promise in November 1917 to
facilitate the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people.
Based on extensive research in the UK and Israel, `Flawed Foundations' was
the first published research to show systematically that the Declaration
did not promise the creation of a Jewish State, and that the Government
did not, in fact, define its meaning or expected outcome. The declared aim
of British rule in Palestine, Renton argues, thus had no real meaning, and
there was no planned endgame for Palestine. Indeed, the British intended
to remain for the foreseeable future, due to Palestine's strategic
importance. Their policy was based on a series of incorrect assumptions:
that the Palestinian Arabs were not a national community and would
eventually accept Zionism, that Zionist leaders did not want a state, and
that both groups could be controlled by effective colonial rule. British
policy was thus fundamentally flawed, and the policy vacuum on the future
of Palestine greatly exacerbated the conflict.
The second issue— the British Government's impact on the political
aspirations of Palestinians and Zionists— was addressed by Renton in an
article `The Age of Nationality and the Origins of the Zionist-Palestinian
Conflict' published in the journal The International History Review.
This piece broke new ground with an entirely new interpretation of the
origins of the conflict, based on research in the UK and Israel. For the
first time, the article argues that the conflict for national sovereignty
in Israel-Palestine began in 1918 as a result of British propaganda among
Palestinians and Jews in the Holy Land. The wider transformation in world
politics during the Great War, away from imperialism to the principle of
self-determination, prompted the British to justify their rule in
Palestine via the cause of national freedom. Renton contends that the
British promotion of the idea of national liberty among both Zionists and
Palestinians led to a new expectation of national independence among both
communities, and a conflict between two statist nationalist movements.
British policy, and its unforeseen consequences, derived from profound
miscalculations by British policy-makers regarding the aspirations of
Zionists and Palestinians.
References to the research
Chapter in Book: Renton, J. (2010) `Flawed Foundations:
The Balfour Declaration and the Palestine Mandate', in R. Miller, ed., Britain,
Palestine and Empire: The Mandate Years (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010),
Journal Article: Renton, J. (2013) `The Age of Nationality and the
Origins of the Zionist-Palestinian Conflict', The International
History Review, Vol. 35, No. 3 (2013), pp. 576-599.
Both outputs above are listed in REF 2 and are available on request. They
meet the threshold of 2* quality in originality, significance and rigour.
As explained in section 2, `Flawed Foundations' constitutes a significant
advance in the scholarship on the meaning of the Balfour Declaration and
the Palestine Mandate, based on wide-ranging, original archival research
in Israel and the UK. In the leading journal Middle Eastern Studies
(Vol. 47, No. 4, 2011), Dr Saul Kelly, King's College London, praised its
`controversial but much-needed reassessment of the Balfour Declaration'.
In H- Diplo (Feb. 2011), Professor Janice J. Terry, Eastern Michigan
University, wrote that Renton `offers a highly nuanced analysis'. The
article published in The International History Review (IHR) is a
significant piece of research that provides a new explanation of the
origins of the Zionist-Palestinian conflict, and is based on extensive
research in Israel and the UK. The article was subject to a rigorous
peer-review process at IHR, which is one of the preeminent journals on the
history of international relations. The article was an outcome of a
research project on the post-Ottoman Middle East for which Renton was
awarded a prestigious Early Career Research Fellowship by the Arts and
Humanities Research Council: `The Middle East: The Rise and Fall of an
Idea', £37,654, awarded Feb.-July 2012.
Details of the impact
Renton's impact activity enhanced public understanding of the origins of
the Israel-Palestine conflict. This was achieved by extending the range
and improving the quality of argument and evidence on this major issue in
public discourse. He developed a variety of media and organisational
collaborations, engaged with public campaigns, and drew on synergies with
the international news cycle to engage local and international audiences
in order to maximise the reach and significance of impact. The
beneficiaries of the impact consisted of those who commissioned and/or
collaborated with Renton, including press commissioning editors,
television producers, organisers in societies and campaign groups, and an
artist, and those who consumed and were affected by the end product of
these research-based collaborations.
In early 2010, Renton began a collaboration with the online political
magazine openDemocracy, (OD) with a piece `Forgotten Lessons:
Palestine and the British Empire' (19/3/10) published in the section openSecurity
(Other Source 1, Section 5), which drew on the article `Flawed
Foundations'. It provided the readership with significant new
argumentation and evidence about the part played by the British Government
in the evolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, with an emphasis on the
policy vacuum at the heart of the Mandate and their mistaken assumptions
about Zionism and the Palestinians. 3,897 people read the piece, which
became the fifth most viewed article in openSecurity since it
began publication (Other Source 2, Section 5). The article led to a
sustained engagement with OD. In 2010 and 2011, Renton published two
front-page articles, including one on WikiLeaks, and another on the
Palestinian campaign for statehood recognition at the United Nations
(21/9/11), which drew on Renton's research into how Zionists understood
and used the Balfour Declaration. The Editor of OD has commented that
Renton's articles `gave a new kind of gravitas to what have remained key
openDemocracy debates', `complicate the discussion' and `add nuance to
readings of contemporary events and counter knee-jerk, one-dimensional
With the two front-page articles in OD, Renton began a strategy of
writing journalism based on his research that tied in with prominent
stories in the international news, so as to maximise the impact on public
discourse. To ensure the sustainability and development of his high- level
public engagement, Renton obtained specialist media training, funded by
his AHRC Fellowship.
Based on his research expertise, Renton was invited at the end of 2010 to
be on an expert panel for a documentary on the Palestinian leader Muhammed
Amin al-Husseini. Following discussions with many individuals, the
production company chose only to feature Renton, who was viewed as
authoritative and balanced on this highly sensitive subject, and Professor
Gilbert Achcar (SOAS). Drawing on his conclusions and approach in `Flawed
Foundations' and `The Age of Nationality', Renton discussed in the
programme the rationale for British involvement in Palestine, British
attitudes during the Mandate towards al-Husseini and the Palestinians and
Zionism, and challenges that faced the Palestinian Arab leadership.
Episode 8 of a series on `Nazi Collaborators', the programme was watched
by some 250,000 on its first viewing on the UK Yesterday Channel, which
the production company's Creative Director (Factual Statement 1, Section
5) states was `about 100,000 above slot average'. The documentary has
since been sold to over thirty channels around the world. The Creative
Director says that Renton's significant pre-recording discussions with the
Director regarding his research and the context `facilitated the scoping
of the programme', and his on-screen contribution was `useful and very
pertinent'. `From our point of view', he remarks, the documentary `has
done a fantastic job in terms of correcting misunderstanding. This episode
has been particularly well received, successful and popular in the United
States because it does not present any misconceptions.'
In addition to his media work, Renton used his research to enhance public
understanding of the conflict by engaging with an additional type of
beneficiary, a prominent artist, and producing an additional type of
impact: generating new ways of thinking that influence creative practice.
Renton acted as a consultant for the artist when the latter was invited to
contribute to a group show `Viewpoint' in Tel Aviv, Israel, from 27
October to 6 December 2012, for which he drew a map of Israel-Palestine.
Renton used the findings of his research on the conflict to explain its
historical political geography, which, according to the artist, provided
`a knowledge platform on which the map would be based.' He states, `The
information that James Renton provided me with was of great use and
interest to me, it was clear, concise and insightful. For a country with
such a complicated history, such historical knowledge was extremely
important to grasp the situation there from both sides of the wall. Mr
Renton's historical insight provided a strong framework to build my
project around.' (Factual Statement 4, Section 5).
In the month that the artist's exhibition opened, a public campaign was
launched that became a central focus of Renton's impact activity for the
rest of the REF census period: a five year international campaign for an
apology from the British Government for the Balfour Declaration, led by
the Palestinian Return Centre in London, an independent consultancy and
accredited United Nations NGO, specialising in the question of the
On 29 April 2013, following the news story that the Israeli Government
had asked the British Library to loan the original text of the Declaration
for public display, Renton published an op-ed article in the English web
edition of the leading Israeli daily newspaper, Ha'aretz
(Ha'aretz.com): `Should Britain Apologize for the Balfour Declaration?'
(Other Source 3, Section 5). It was the only article in the Israeli media
to deal with the apology campaign, and opened a new debate. Drawing on the
`Flawed Foundations' and `Age of Nationality' articles, Renton presented
new argumentation and evidence as to why the government should issue an
apology. Instead of the popular critical view of the Declaration, which
holds that it represented Britain's collusion with statist political
Zionism, Renton argued that British miscalculation and propaganda led to
and exacerbated the conflict.
The article, and the sustained activity that followed, had two principal
impacts. The first related to policy engagement: the article, and ensuing
activity, significantly raised the profile of the PRC campaign in the
Israeli and UK Jewish public sphere, and led directly to changes in that
campaign. The second related to the enhancement of public understanding of
the origins of the conflict. Due to the reputation and extensive
readership of Ha'aretz as an organ focused on Israeli politics,
the op-ed enabled Renton to have a significant impact on the international
public discourse about the conflict.
The article was read by at least 6,500 readers - `a substantial audience'
according to the opinion editor (Factual Statement 3, Section 5) - and was
in Ha'aretz.com's top ten op-eds for April and May 2013. It fostered a
great deal of debate, with 82 comments, a high number for opinion pieces,
40 tweets and 166 Facebook recommendations. The opinion editor described
the article as `a significant contribution to the debate about a key
historical event and its present-day consequences ... [with a] successful
performance in terms of reader numbers, social sharing and `buzz'.' Such
was the interest in the article that Ha'aretz translated it into
Hebrew and published it in the opinion section of the print edition in
Israel on 20 May 2013, something that the newspaper only does with a small
proportion of online op-eds.
In the UK, Renton was invited by the campaign group Jews for Justice for
Palestinians (JJP) to give a talk based on his Ha'aretz article,
which took place in London on 25 June 2013. The JJP talk in London
provoked significant reflection and debate after the event. It was
attended by the PRC's Senior Researcher, who had read the Ha'aretz
article and was, as a result, interested in hearing Renton speak.
Regarding the impact of the article and the talk, the Senior Researcher
comments that Renton's work `consolidated our argument and strengthened
our own belief in our campaign'. The talk, he says, `led us to refine our
argument ... [W]e now place more emphasis on the Mandate period ... in our
overall argument and our communications going forward. ... The talk has
informed, corroborated and focused the thinking of the PRC campaign group,
and has certainly had an influence on a debate on policy/practice.'
(Factual Statement 2, Section 5). The talk was also the subject of an
article by a columnist in The Jewish Chronicle on 8 July 2013
(Other Source 4, Section 5).
In addition to the JJP event and the impact that followed, Renton's Ha'aretz
article contributed to a collaboration with Al-Jazeera English television.
An Assistant Producer at the channel, who had read the Ha'aretz
piece, invited Renton, due to his expertise, to feature in a discussion
programme on Britain's contribution to the Israel-Palestine conflict,
`Al-Nakba: The Debate', broadcast in June 2013. Renton contributed to the
shaping of the programme through lengthy discussion with the Associate
Producer prior to broadcast, in which he introduced the findings of his
articles `Flawed Foundations' and `The Age of Nationality'. He appeared in
the programme alongside Professor Emeritus Avi Shlaim, University of
Oxford, and the former Director of the Middle East programme at Chatham
House, Professor Rosemary Hollis, City University. In the televised
debate, he conveyed the arguments made in `Flawed Foundations' and `The
Age of Nationality'. On Renton's impact on the programme, the Producer
(Other Source 2, Section 5) commented, `Dr Renton's contribution included
detailed, preliminary telephone discussions about the subject matter which
greatly informed the parameters of debate for the recording, and allowed
for insightful juxtaposition of varying perspectives between the three
guests. During the recorded discussion, Dr Renton's analyses of British
motivations in Mandate Palestine provided both historical context and
political insight. His contributions were complementary and expansive
additions to those of the other guests.' The Associate Producer (Other
Source 2, Section 5) states that, `as a result of the diverse panel that
was invited to contribute', the programme received a significant level of
feedback from the audience, with, `rather uniquely', viewers `calling in
to say how much they enjoyed the programme and to comment on how
informative it was.' Renton, she says, `put forward a well-balanced
argument which stimulated a lot of debate'.
Sources to corroborate the impact
1) Creative Director, World Media Rights — states documentary viewing
figures, addresses Renton's contribution to documentary scoping and
on-screen contribution, audience reception.
2) Senior Researcher, the Palestinian Return Centre — impact on debate,
policy of campaign group.
3) Opinion Editor, Ha'aretz.com — readership numbers, reader comments,
social media reaction, contribution to debate of a historical issue and
present day consequences.
4) Artist who consulted Renton — impact on work of artist.
1) openDemocracy, 2010. Forgotten lessons: Palestine and the British
empire. [online] Available at http://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/james-renton/forgotten-lessons-palestine-and-british-empire
[Accessed 19 November 2013].
2) The Innovation Partnership, November 2013, Research Impact Report
— Dr James Renton 2008-13
3) Ha'aretz.com, 29 April 2013, Should Britain apologize for
the Balfour Declaration? [online] Available at http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/should-britain-apologize-for-the-balfour-declaration.premium-1.518145
[Accessed 19 November 2013]
4) The Jewish Chronicle, 8 July 2013, When history is in a
sorry state. [online] Available at http://www.thejc.com/comment-and-debate/columnists/109276/when-history-a-sorry-state
[Accessed 19 November 2013].