The Year in Review: 1999 

Jan. 21: Irish Prime Minister Ahern concludes a visit to Gaza, where he met with President Arafat, by flying out of Gaza International Airport, becoming the first Prime Minister to leave Palestinian territory directly for his own country. 

Jan. 25: Palestinian and Israeli negotiators agree to request a six-month extension from the Norwegian Government of the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), a group of international observers from six countries monitoring and reporting on tensions in the area. 

Feb. 4:             President Arafat attends the 47th Annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.  Following the breakfast, he meets with President Clinton. 

Feb. 5: The General Assembly resumes its 10th Emergency Special Session (ESS) on illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and adopts resolution ES-10/6 on 9 February, which recommends the convening of a Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the 4th Geneva Convention on 15 July 1999 at U.N. headquarters at Geneva. 

Feb. 5: The World Bank hosts a meeting of approximately 30 countries and 8 international organizations in Frankfurt, Germany to discuss financial support for the Palestinian people over the next five years. 

Feb. 7: King Hussein of Jordan dies upon arrival in Amman from the U.S. following unsuccessful treatment.  Leaders from around the world attend his state funeral, and the General Assembly pays tribute to him in a special memorial session on 8 February. 

Feb. 11: German Foreign Minister Fischer, in his capacity as President of the European Union (EU), meets with President Arafat in Gaza and reiterates the EU’s support for the full implementation of the Wye River Memorandum. 

Feb. 18-19: An international conference on Bethlehem 2000, organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), convenes in Rome.  Several high-level officials participate and the Committee delegation is given an audience with Pope John Paul II and is also received by the President of the Italian Republic. 

Mar. 1:             Canada and the Palestinian Authority sign a free trade agreement in Ramallah, facilitating the development of trade between the two sides. 

Mar. 7:             The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), meeting in Gaza City, begins its fourth annual session.  The Council re-elects Ahmed Qurei as its speaker. 

Mar. 10: The Jerusalem Fund Committee meets in Rabat, Morocco to consider ways to support the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.  The Fund’s main aim is coordinating contributions from the Muslim world and the international community to prevent Israel’s judaization of Jerusalem. 

Mar. 11: The German Ambassador to Israel delivers a letter, on behalf of the EU, to the Israeli Foreign Ministry indicating that the EU does not intend to change its existing practices regarding meetings with Palestinians in Jerusalem.  The letter refers to Jerusalem as a corpus separatum (separate entity). 

Mar. 23: President Arafat meets with President Clinton at the White House, where President Clinton emphasizes that permanent status negotiations should be resumed as soon as possible, should proceed on an accelerated basis, and should not be open-ended. 

Mar. 25: The EU Summit issues the Berlin Statement in support of the Middle East peace process, the early resumption of permanent status negotiations, and the rights of the Palestinian people.  The Statement elevates EU positions in this regard to a new level and reaffirms “the continuing and unqualified Palestinian right to self-determination, including the option of a State. 

April 26: Israeli police formally notify Palestinian officials that three offices in the Palestinian headquarters at the Orient House in East Jerusalem will be closed. 

April 27-29: The Palestinian Central Council convenes and adopts a unanimous position postponing a decision by the Council on the issue of Palestinian statehood prior to the end of the 5-year transitional on 4 May 1999.  A Hamas delegation, headed by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, as well as a delegation of Islamic Jihad attend the session. 

April 29: At a meeting in Amman, donor countries pledge new funds to assist the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) after an appeal is made by the Agency’s Commissioner-General for urgent assistance to address UNRWA’s continuing financial difficulties. 

April 30: The U.N. Commission on Human Rights adopts 3 important resolutions on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and Israel’s continued human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem. 

May 17: Ehud Barak of the Labor Party ousts the incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Israeli election. 

June 21: The Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) commemorates 20 years of assistance and activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem. 

June 16-18: A delegation of the CEIRPP visits Palestine for the first time, touring several areas in the Gaza Strip. 

June 18: President Clinton uses his waiver power to delay the move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the basis of protecting critical U.S. national security interests, most crucially for preserving the prospects for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace. 

June 20: The Group of Eight (G-8) summit meeting in Cologne, Germany issues a statement on regional issues, including a reaffirmation of support for the Middle East peace process and the need to conclude permanent status negotiations within one year. 

July 6: The new Israeli Government is established and is given a vote of confidence by the parliament.

July 11: President Arafat and Prime Minister Barak meet for the first time since Mr. Barak’s election at the Erez border crossing.

July 15: The Conference of the High Contracting Parties to the 4th Geneva Convention on measures to enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, is convened at U.N. headquarters at Geneva, Switzerland for the first time in the history of the Convention.  The Conference is brief and without a debate, but a statement is issued reaffirming the applicability of the 4th Geneva Convention to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and the need for full respect for the provisions of the Convention.  The Conference is adjourned on the understanding that it will convene again in light of consultations and the development of the humanitarian situation in the field. 

July 26: President Clinton, President Arafat and Prime Minister Barak hold a trilateral meeting in Rabat following the funeral of Morocco’s late King Hassan. 

July 26: Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Ahmed Qurei visits the Israeli Knesset at the invitation of its speaker, representing the first such visit by a senior Palestinian official. 

Aug. 5: Accompanied by the EU Middle East peace envoy, Miguel Moratinos, Finnish Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen, in her capacity as the President of the EU from July to December 1999, visits the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Aug. 5: A coalition of Muslim and Arab organizations call for a worldwide boycott of Burger King after it opens a restaurant in the Israeli settlement of “Maale Adumim” in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The Burger King Corporation later decides to close down that restaurant in deference to the legitimate concerns voiced by those organizations on the basis of international law. 

Aug. 30: Jordan declares that it is ready to relinquish authority over Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority, stating that their interest in Jerusalem was based on their being part of the Arab and Muslim nation and that they were not an alternative to their Palestinian brothers. 

Sept. 4: “The Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum on Implementation Timeline of Outstanding Commitments of Agreements Signed and the Resumption of Permanent Status Negotiations” is signed by President Arafat and Prime Minister Barak. President Mubarak, who hosted the signing ceremony, also signs the Memorandum as a witness along with King Abdullah of Jordan and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.  The Memorandum is heavily based on the Wye River Memorandum, largely remaining within its parameters and coming six months after its freezing. 

Sept. 9: Israel releases 199 Palestinian prisoners in implementation of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum, and on the following day the maps indicating the 7% of land in the West Bank to be transferred from Area C to Area B are signed. 

Sept. 10: The U.N. Secretary-General announces the creation of a new post of “U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority”.  The Secretary-General appoints Ambassador Terje Larsen of Norway for that post to succeed Ambassador Chinmaya Gharekhan, who held the post of “U.N. Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories”.  

Sept. 23: President Arafat participates in the General Debate of the General Assembly.   Addressing the plenary, he expresses confidence that Palestine will participate in the U.N. Millennium Summit as Member State of the U.N. 

Oct. 14-15: A donor meeting for assistance to the Palestinian people is coordinated by the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee and held at Tokyo, Japan.  An updated Tripartite Action Plan is signed at the meeting. 

Oct. 25: After lengthy delays, the southern safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza Strip is opened in implementation of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum.

Oct. 25: The Pontifical Mission for Palestine, the Vatican agency that for decades has provided humanitarian support for the Palestine refugees and others in need throughout the Middle East, commemorates its 50th anniversary.  A special ceremony and reception is convened at U.N. headquarters in New York to mark the occasion.  

Oct.: A Lebanese military court suprisingly sentences Sultan Abu-Einen, the Fatah representative in Lebanon, to death in absentia. Tensions increase in and surrounding Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. 

Nov. 10: The General Assembly adopts by consensus resolution 54/22 on Bethlehem 2000.  This represents the first of 20 Palestinian resolutions overwhelming adopted by the 54th session of the General Assembly, in addition to 2 Syrian resolutions and 2 resolutions on nuclear disarmament in the Middle East region. 

Nov. 29: The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, observed annually on this date since 1978, is commemorated at the U.N.   A solemn meeting is convened by the CEIRPP in the morning, followed by a debate in the General Assembly on the Question of Palestine and the inauguration of an exhibit to mark the occasion. 

Dec. 8: The annual pledging conference for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is held at U.N. headquarters in New York on the day marking the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Agency with the adoption of General Assembly resolution 302 (IV).  A joint press conference is also held by the Commissioner-General Hansen of UNRWA and U.N. Secretary-General Annan to mark the occasion. 

Dec. 8: Secretary Albright visits Ramallah and meets with President Arafat, leaving without concrete results regarding outstanding problems related to Israeli redeployment and ongoing settlement activities. 

Dec. 11: Jordan imprisons Hamas leadership in Amman, including the head of its political bureau, and a few weeks later they are deported to Qatar.

Dec. 15: President Clinton, one day after the visit of Secretary Albright to Damascus, declares the resumption of the Syrian-Israeli track of the peace process with negotiations commencing in Washington, D.C. between Prime Minister Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Al-Sharaa. 

Dec. 24-25: One of the main components of the Bethlehem 2000 project takes place with the holding of joyous Christmas celebrations at the Church of the Nativity and Manger Square in Bethlehem with the attendance of President Arafat and some Heads of State and foreign dignitaries.

Dec. 31: In contrast to the subdued atmosphere in Jerusalem due to restrictive Israeli measures, the new year is happily and optimistically received and celebrated in the Palestinian City of Bethlehem similar to other millennial celebrations around the world.