From Now On, It's Barenboim, the Israeli-Palestinian Pianist

RAMALLAH - 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 Saturday after a Beethoven piano recital in this West Bank city, where he has been active for 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. 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 Barghouti, 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. (See box.)

Asked about U.S. President George W. Bush's remarks last week during his visit in the area 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," he explained. "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.

For the past decade, Barenboim has promoted Arab-Israeli cultural contacts, notably alongside the late Palestinian-American writer Prof. Edward Said.