Statement by Dr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, Ambassador, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, before the General Assembly Plenary, 53rd Session, Item 157: Bethlehem 2000, United Nations, New York, 18 November 1998:

Mr. President,

I take the floor, on behalf of my delegation, to address a new and important item on the agenda of this august Assembly during its fifty-third session, namely item 157: Bethlehem 2000.

In accordance with the Gregorian calendar, the year 1999/2000 will bring the 20th century and the 2nd millennium to a close and the year 2000 marks the onset of the 3rd millennium for human civilization. The city of Bethlehem, Palestine is of historic and symbolic prominence in this epic turning point in time.

Bethlehem is one of the most historic and religiously significant sites on earth. In the year 2000, the past and the future will meet in Bethlehem in a global vision of hope and peace for all peoples of the world. On that occasion, the world will celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ in that city and the onset of the new millennium. This occasion is of monumental importance not only for the Palestinian people and the Middle East region, but also for the believers of the world and for the international community as a whole. Further, this event in time possesses a multi-faceted character; it is comprised of a religious dimension, historical dimension and a cultural dimension as well. The achievement of a dignified, resplendent and celebratory commemoration, fitting for such a historic occasion, is clearly of great importance.

Mr. President,

The planning, organization and preparation for the celebration and commemoration of this major event in the city of Bethlehem is an immense endeavor that the Palestinian people and the Palestinian National Authority have happily undertaken. This began with the launching of the Bethlehem 2000 Project in 1997, which set forth a schedule for the commemorative events to begin at Christmas 1999, to continue throughout the year 2000, and to conclude at Easter 2001. It is estimated that approximately 2 million visitors will come to Bethlehem to celebrate the historic occasions that will be upon us with the dawning of the new millennium. However, the Palestinian people cannot achieve all that is required by this enormous task on their own.

Unfortunately, the city of Bethlehem, like all other Palestinian cities that have suffered under the long and harsh years of occupation, has withstood damage to, and the deterioration of, its infrastructure and a halt in its natural development and progression as a city of the world. As such, the Palestinian people are in need of the assistance and engagement of the international community. This assistance is necessary in order to meet the many diverse demands required by this formidable undertaking in a manner that will ensure the fruition of an historic commemoration in which all the peoples of the world can rejoice.

Strident and concerted efforts, careful and detailed planning and preparation, and sufficient monetary funding are basic and essential prerequisites for the success of the Bethlehem 2000 celebration. In this regard, six program components have been laid out by the Bethlehem 2000 Project, which include the following: events, infrastructure, services, cultural heritage, tourism development and private sector development. Further, the estimated total program cost, excluding private sector activities and development, for the Bethlehem 2000 Project is $336 million (US).

In this connection, various donor countries, United Nations agencies, intergovernmental organizations, religious and international institutions and others have already become engaged and begun contributing towards the Bethlehem 2000 Project. A major step was taken towards increasing the engagement of the international community in the Bethlehem 2000 Project with the convening of the "Bethlehem 2000 Participants Conference" at Brussels, Belgium on 11 and 12 May 1998, which was convened in association with the European Commission, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Bank. This Conference provided an opportunity for decision-makers from governments, intergovernmental organizations, the private sector, the international financial community, religious and cultural institutions, and the media to participate towards the success of the Bethlehem 2000 Project through financial contributions, investment, expertise and promotion of international awareness.

We express our deep gratitude and appreciation to all those who have made generous contributions towards the endeavor and who have cooperated with the Palestinian National Authority, and continue to do so, in the effort to ensure the ultimate success of Bethlehem 2000. However, continued and increased participation by the international community would be highly beneficial in the following fields: general organization and preparation for the occasion, financial and technical contributions for the preparation, and actual participation in the events and activities.

With regard to the United Nations in specific, it is our hope that this important international body will play an explicit role in drawing the attention of the peoples of the world to the importance of this global occasion and assisting in making the event a moment of hope, peace, coexistence and prosperity for all humankind. Accordingly, a draft resolution, entitled Bethlehem 2000, is before the Assembly. The resolution was drafted in a way that aims at achieving the support of all Member States. Consequently, it is hoped that this draft resolution will be adopted by consensus.

In closing, let me express our appreciation to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, particularly its Chairman and the members of its Bureau for taking the initiative on this important matter. I thank you, Mr. President.