(October 1998)

Bethlehem 2000
An Explanatory Note

Bethlehem, Palestine 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. On that occasion, the world will celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ and the onset of the new millennium.

This event is of monumental importance not only for the Palestinian people and for the region, but also for the believers of the world and for the international community as a whole. The occasion’s worldwide significance also reflects a multi-dimensional character as it is comprised of a significant religious dimension, historical dimension, and cultural dimension, as well as a contemporary dimension, marking the end of the 2nd millennium and the beginning of the 3rd millennium for humankind.

Emboldened by this legacy and determined to honor the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ and the dawning of the new millennium, the Palestinian National Authority is launching the Bethlehem 2000 Project. Commemoration of the occasion is planned to begin at Christmas 1999 and to conclude at Easter 2001. The Palestinian people are preparing very hard for this immense undertaking. A High Committee for the Bethlehem 2000 Project has been established, and it is being headed by President Yasser Arafat, with many religious authorities, individuals and institutions from around the world directly engaged in the planning and preparation.

A major step towards increasing the engagement and participation of the international community in the above-mentioned project is the "Bethlehem 2000 Participants Conference", which is being held at Brussels, Belgium on 11 and 12 May 1998. The Conference is being convened by the Bethlehem 2000 Project, 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. The Conference will aim to provide 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.

It is expected that approximately 2 million visitors will come to Bethlehem to celebrate the historic occasions that will be upon us with the dawning of the year 2000. To meet this huge undertaking, the Bethlehem 2000 Project envisages six program components, which are as follows:

1) Events: Religious, cultural and artistic celebrations are being planned, both on the national and international level. 2) Infrastructure: Plans to rehabilitate and upgrade the infrastructure network, including water, electricity, sewage and sanitation, and traffic and transportation. 3) Services: Plans to rehabilitate and upgrade basic services, including social and cultural, health and medical, police and security, emergency and civil defense, and traffic control and logistics services. 4) Cultural Heritage: Plans to preserve and display our rich past and history through a variety of exhibits, displays and events. 5) Tourism Development: Plans to provide all necessary tourism services. 6) Private Sector Development: Encouragement of international investors to join with local investors and developers to provide accommodation, food, entertainment and information services.

The estimated total program cost, excluding private sector activities and development, for the Bethlehem 2000 Project is US $336 million. The total private sector investment in this regard is estimated to be US $85 million.

Bethlehem 2000 will be an historical and momentous international occasion, requiring a high degree of engagement by the international community in organization and preparation for the occasion, financial and technical contributions to the preparation, and actual participation in the commemorative events and activities. As indicated above, some United Nations subsidiary bodies and intergovernmental organizations have already begun participating. However, it is deemed that the United Nations in specific should display explicit interest in this historical occasion, drawing the attention of the peoples of the world to its importance and assisting in making the event a moment for hope, peace, coexistence and prosperity for all humankind.

Based on all of the above, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People has decided to authorize its Chairman and the members of its Bureau to request the addition of a new agenda item, entitled "Bethlehem 2000", for the 53rd session of the United Nations General Assembly. It is the strong hope of the Committee that a constructive debate will take place in the interest of the specified objectives and that wide consultation will pave the way for the unanimous adoption of a General Assembly resolution in this regard.