"Daniel Barenboim, the world-renowned Israeli pianist and conductor, has received Palestinian citizenship" and a Palestinian passport, the Haaretz English edition reported on Monday, using a Reuters story. The Ynet version said that the Palestinian Authority had granted Palestinian citizenship to Barenboim, whereas The New York Times reported that the Argentinian-born Israeli pianist and conductor had agreed to accept Palestinian citizenship and an honorary Palestinian passport.
The passport was given at the conclusion of a concert in Ramallah, in appreciation of the way (and this is the present writer's version) in which Barenboim has for years linked musical initiatives to his clear opposition to the Israeli occupation; of his willingness to come and visit Ramallah at a time when most Israelis see it as a bastion of terror; and of the way in which he became friendly with prominent Palestinians who were not popular with most Israelis, like Edward Said. He received citizenship, he agreed to receive citizenship, citizenship was granted. What difference does the wording make? It could just as well have said that the PA granted Barenboim citizenship of the moon, since the PA has no authority to grant citizenship (or in its more correct definition: Palestinian residency) to anyone. Not to Yasser Arafat, not to Mahmoud Abbas and not to an 80-year-old refugee woman who lives in Ein el Hilweh in Lebanon and continues to miss the almond tree that her grandfather planted in the village of Lubia (today's Kibbutz Lavi).
Arafat and Abbas, like several thousand other Palestinian Liberation Organization activists who returned to Israel in 1994, received their "Palestinian citizenship" and their Palestinian ID card (written in Arabic and Hebrew), because Israel permitted it. Because an Israeli civil administration clerk in the typed their details into the computer of the Israeli Interior Ministry, so that the ministry would permit the Palestinian Interior Ministry to print the ID card in its printing house, so that the data would appear on the computer screen of the last of the soldiers at the smallest of checkpoints. The PA has no power to grant Palestinian residency to those who were born in pre-1948 Mandatory Palestine, nor does it have the power to grant residency to those born after 1948, within the borders of the State of Israel. It does not even have the power to restore residency to about 400,000 people who were born in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip after 1948, and Israel did everything possible over the years so that they would lose their right of residency: It issued injunctions limiting their right to stay abroad, prevented their return from abroad in time, did not take into account those who were not present during the population census of August 1967.
Tens of thousands of them are living today in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, in their homes, in their villages, but without official papers: They had temporary travel documents from various Arab countries when they went to study or work abroad. They returned to their homes as tourists. The temporary documents are no longer valid, and they are prisoners for all extents and purposes in their cities of residence. If they are caught at the checkpoints they will be expelled. Only through an exhausting process of "family reunification," which is controlled by Israel, can several of them become "citizens" of their homeland. During the past seven years only recently has the process been approved, for about 3,500 people, out of at least 65,000 in a similar situation. The PA does not even have the power to change the residential address from Gaza to Ramallah unless an official in the Civil Administration (and behind him a member of the Shin Bet security services, and behind them the Israeli interior and defense ministries) approves. So does the "PA grant citizenship to Barenboim"?
In spite of the wealth of information published in recent years, especially in Haaretz, about Israel's control of the Palestinian Population Registry, the facts are not absorbed. The PA is seen as a "state" with the sovereign right to grant "citizenship." For Israelis in particular it is hard to understand the extent of our domination over the Palestinians: After all, every Jew in the world has a right to come to Israel, and within a few days to become an Israeli citizen and to live not only in Israel proper but in any illegal settlement and any illegal and unauthorized outpost.