Daniel Barenboim, the world renowned Israeli pianist and conductor, has taken Palestinian citizenship and said he believed his rare new status could serve a model for peace between the two peoples.
"It is a great honor to be offered a passport," he said late on Saturday after a Beethoven piano recital in Ramallah,the West Bank city where he has been active for some years in promoting contact between young Arab and Israeli musicians.
"I have also accepted it because I believe that the destinies of the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are inextricably linked," Barenboim said. "We are blessed – or cursed – to live with each other. And I prefer the first."
Rare opportunity. Barenboim in action (Photo: AFP)
"The fact that an Israeli citizen can be awarded a Palestinian passport, can be a sign that it is actually possible."
Former Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouthi, who helped organize Saturday's concert, said the passport had been approved by the previous government of which he was a member and which was replaced in June.
The passport had actually been issued about six weeks ago, he added.
Argentine-born Barenboim, 65, is a controversial figure in his adoptive homeland, both for his promotion of German music and vocal opposition to Israel's occupation of the West Bank.
Asked about US President George W. Bush's remarks last week on a visit to the region that a peace could be signed this year, Barenboim warned of the danger of raising hopes too high.
"It would be absolutely horrible if now, with good intentions, expectations are raised which will not be able to be fulfilled," Barenboim said. "Then we will sink into an even greater depression."
Though he dismissed any wish to play a political role, the former music director of the Chicago symphony Orchestra took a dig at Bush's strikingly forceful call in Jerusalem last week for Israel to end, in the president's own words, "the occupation".
"Now even not very intelligent people are saying that the occupation has to be stopped," Barenboim said.
'Barenboim will keep Israeli citizenship'
Despite strong objections from Israeli politicians to Israeli pianist Daniel Barenboim's act of accepting a Palestinian passport, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit has no plans to annul his Israeli citizenship.
Shas faction chairman, MK Yakov Margi, was quick to denounce Barenboim and call for his status as an Israeli citizen to be annulled. "It's an embarrassment to the State that a person like this has Israeli citizenship...I am sure that in the eyes of Israeli citizens, he has lost the moral authority to be Israeli."
Interior Minister Sheetrit told Ynet that "the matter is not even up for discussion."
According to the law, the interior minister is conferred the right of abrogating the citizenship of an Israeli in the case of fraud or a breach of trust. Emigration or receiving citizenship in an enemy state are considered breaches of trust and are liable to lead to the annulment of citizenship.
The Palestinian Authority, which is not officially considered an enemy state, does not fall into the category of such a state.
Thousands of Israeli residents have both Israeli ID cards as well as Palestinian ones. Most are Israeli-Arabs that have close relatives who live in PA areas or Israeli-Arabs that have come to live in Israel in the framework of family reunification programs.
Most Palestinians that take on Israeli citizenship are required to renounce their Palestinian citizenship but there are many exceptions.
There are virtually no Jewish Israelis that have both Israeli and Palestinian citizenship and this is why Barenboim's case is so unique.
Barenboim, who is based in Berlin, he is closely identified with German music and in 2001 conducted an opera by 19th-century composer Richard Wagner in Jerusalem despite anger in some quarters at a performance of a work by a German accused of anti-Semitic views.
Tani Goldstein contributed to this report