- Bethlehem 2000: In honor of the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus
Christ and the onset of the new millennium, the Palestinian National Authority is
launching the Bethlehem 2000 Project. A High Committee for the Bethlehem 2000
Project has been established, composed of religious authorities, individuals and
institutions from around the world, to plan and prepare the ambitious program of cultural
and religious celebrations. In a response to a call by President Yasser Arafat for
international assistance and involvement in this historic project, a "Bethlehem 2000
Participants Conference" was convened in Brussels on 11-12 May 1998, in association
with the European Commission, the UNDP, UNESCO and the World Bank. The aim of the
conference was to increase the participation of the international community and engage
governments, NGOs, the private sector, religious and cultural institutions and the media
in the planning and promotion of the Bethlehem 2000 events, which will commence at
Christmas 1999 and conclude at Easter 2001.
United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan, in a message to the
Participants Conference, conveyed his "heartfelt endorsement to the Bethlehem 2000
Project to bring together the past and future in a global vision of hope and peace for all
peoples." Further, at the United Nations, the Committee on the Exercise of the
Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People authorized its Chairman and the members of
the Bureau to request the addition of a new agenda item, entitled "Bethlehem
2000", for the 53rd session of the General Assembly, in hopes for
constructive dialogue and the unanimous adoption of a resolution on the celebrations.
- Netanyahu Rebuffs U.S. Administration while Mrs. Clinton Supports Palestinian State:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a U.S. invitation to attend a
trilateral summit meeting, along with President Yasser Arafat, in Washington on 11 May
1998, to launch the permanent status talks. He refused to attend the summit because the
invitation was conditional on acceptance of the U.S. proposals to revive the stalled
Middle East peace talks. In doing so, Mr. Netanyahu dealt a major blow to the peace
process, risking and further increasing Israels international isolation. In fact,
the Israeli position serves as additional proof that the Prime Minister and his government
do not intend to implement the existing agreements between the Palestinian and Israeli
The U.S. administration has been trying for some time to convince the
two sides to accept compromise proposals on several elements regarding implementation of
the agreements, the most important of which is the further Israeli redeployment from 13.1%
of the West Bank. Other elements include security measures, the third redeployment, and
cessation of settlement activities. The figure of 13.1%, far below Palestinian
expectations based on the agreements, was reached as a U.S. compromise between
Israels proposed 9% and the Palestinian demand for 30%.
Secretary of State, Ms. Madeline Albright, issued an invitation for the
summit after the London talks with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, on 4 May 1998, failed
to produce an agreement due to intransigent Israeli positions. Ms. Albright warned that
the administration would not accept any changes in the proposals, stating that "
the invitation to the Washington meeting is on the basis of those ideas, and watering them
down is not in the works." She further added that "if agreement is not
reached, we might have to re-examine our approach to the peace process." Ms.
Albright also dismissed Netanyahus rejection of the proposal on the grounds of
"security, " stating that the American ideas "are fair and balanced . .
. and do not threaten Israeli security."
Israels confrontation intensified on 7 May as well, when First
Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, addressing a group of Palestinian and Israeli youths stated
that I think it will be in the long-term interests of the Middle East for
Palestine to be a state . . . a functioning modern state that is on the same footing as
other states." She stated further that the creation of an independent Palestinian
State was "very important for the Palestinian people" and for the "broader
goal of peace in the Middle East."
- Clinton Addresses Arab-Americans: On 7 May 1998, President Clinton became the first
sitting American president to address a conference of Arab Americans. He received a long
standing ovation following a speech to a major conference organized by the Arab American
Institute and the Palestinian American Congress. Discussing the U.S. role in the Middle
East peace process and the recent U.S. proposal on redeployment, Mr. Clinton stated that
"What we are trying to do is to get the parties over a hurdle so they can get into
this final status talks so that we can stay on the timetable established a few years ago
by both the Palestinians and the Israelis . . ." Addressing several hundred
people, Mr. Clinton noted that " . . . the Arab American Community has made an
enormous contribution to this country."