2. The Bethlehem 2000 International Conference was held in Rome, on 18 and 19 February 1999, under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. Participants in the conference included eminent political and religious personalities, among others, H.E. Mr. Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian Authority, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Senegal, the President of the Committee for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Mayor of Rome, representatives of Governments, including donor countries, intergovernmental organizations, United Nations system organizations and agencies, parliamentarians, the Bethlehem Municipality, and non-governmental organizations.
3. During the Conference, the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People and the delegation of the Committee had the honour and privilege of being received by His Excellency Dr. Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, President of the Italian Republic, who expressed the readiness of his country to continue to make every effort aimed at bringing the peace process back on track.
4. The delegation of the Committee was also received by His Holiness Pope John Paul II, who encouraged the Committee’s endeavours and sent his blessings for the success of the coming celebrations in Bethlehem in true spirit of peace, tolerance and reconciliation among all the peoples on earth.
5. The Conference underscored the monumental importance attached worldwide to honouring the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. It recognized and celebrated the history and the future of the Palestinian city of Bethlehem – the birthplace of Jesus Christ as a place of peace.
6. The Conference was aimed also at supporting and promoting the Bethlehem 2000 Project launched by the Palestinian Authority and at ensuring the greatest possible international participation in its realization. The Conference also highlighted the urgency of bringing economic recovery and prosperity to the Palestinian people following decades of conflict and dispossession.
7. The inclusion by the United Nations General Assembly of an item entitled “Bethlehem 2000” in the agenda of its fifty-third and fifty-fourth sessions was viewed as a major step towards increasing the engagement and participation of the international community in the Bethlehem 2000 Project. The participants also welcomed the adoption by the General Assembly of resolution 53/27 of 18 November 1998 without a vote and considered it as a clear reflection of the world community’s strong desire to bring the era of dialogue, tolerance and reconciliation to the people of Bethlehem and the entire Middle East.
8. The Conference participants noted the important work done by the Palestinian Authority on the various aspects of the Bethlehem 2000 Project. The participants reviewed the status and the needs of the Project, as well as the difficulties the Palestinian Authority faced in its implementation. They emphasized the urgency of making concrete improvements in the situation on the ground in the city and its vicinity. The participants also stressed the need for the development of Bethlehem’s municipal infrastructure, public services, preservation of its rich cultural heritage, tourist development and private sector. Freedom of movement, unhindered access to the Holy Places in Bethlehem by the faithful of all religions and nationalities are essential to the city’s revival. The reconstruction of historic sites in this Holy Land should become a fitting tribute to the spiritual significance of Bethlehem – a symbol of enduring hope, harmony and peace.
9. The participants were encouraged by the assistance of the international donor community in reconstructing and rehabilitating the Palestinian economy and, in particular, the donor countries’, agencies’and private sector’s engagement in various projects in the city of Bethlehem. In that regard, the participants welcomed the Bethlehem 2000 Participants Conference held in Brussels in May 1998. The Conference also thanked the Governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and private sector who have participated in the Conference. Their participation demonstrated the broad international support for the Bethlehem 2000 initiative.
10. The participants also recognized the important role played by the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the World Bank and other United Nations system organizations and agencies in ensuring the success of this major undertaking.
11. The participation in the Conference of His Excellency Mr. Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian Authority was welcomed by the participants. They expressed their appreciation for his untiring efforts and leadership in the quest for a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine and a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
12. The participants expressed deep appreciation and gratitude to the Government of Italy for hosting the Conference and for the generous financial contribution towards the promotion of this important event.
13. The participants would like to thank in particular His Excellency Dr. Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, President of the Italian Republic, the Government of Italy, The Honourable Francesco Rutelli, Mayor of Rome, and Mr. Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, for their support of the Conference.