Background Release 

With the objective of mobilizing the widest international support for the Bethlehem 2000 Project of the Palestinian Authority and for the celebration of the new millennium in Bethlehem in a global vision of peace and reconciliation, the United Nations Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People will hold the Bethlehem 2000 International Conference in Rome on 18 and 19 February. The Conference, to be held at Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Headquarters, is organized in accordance with General Assembly resolutions 53/39 and 53/40 of 2 December 1998.

The Conference has been convened with the support of the Government of Italy, and will provide an opportunity for governments, intergovernmental organizations, parliamentarians, religious and cultural personalities and institutions, the private sector, the international aid community and non- governmental organizations to engage in further dialogue and cooperation for the promotion of peace and reconciliation. It will also review the status and needs of the Project and promote public support and participation, so as to render the initiative an international success.

The Conference will be opened on Thursday, 18 February, at 9.00 a.m. in the Plenary Hall of FAO Headquarters by Lamberto Dini, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Italian Republic. Other speakers in the opening session include: Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations; Roger Cardinal Etchegaray, President of the Committee for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Head of the Holy See delegation; Francesco Rutelli, Mayor of Rome; Jacques Diouf, Director-General of FAO; Ibra Deguène Ka, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; Azeddine Laraki, Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference; and Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian Authority.

The second plenary session, which starts on Thursday afternoon at 2:00 p.m., is entitled "Celebrating the new millennium in a global vision of peace and reconciliation". The speakers are: Said Kamal, Assistant Secretary-General of the League of Arab States; Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem; Victor Petlyuchenko, Deputy Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations, Moscow Patriarchate, Representative of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia; Moustafa Mohamed Aly Elshakaa, Professor, Member of the Islamic Research Council Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, Representative of Sheikh Muhammad Sayid Tantawi, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, Cairo; Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, President of the Islamic Centre, Rome; Joan Brown Campbell, General Secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States; Naim Ateek, Director of Sabeel, Jerusalem; and Dwain C. Epps, Director, Programme Unit III — Justice, Peace and Creation, World Council of Churches.

The third plenary session, scheduled for Friday, 19 February, 9 a.m., entitled "Preparing for the millennium celebrations" will hear a briefing by Nabeel Kassis, Chairman of the Bethlehem 2000 Committee and Minister of the Palestinian Authority, on the status of the project. Other speakers include: Hanna Nasser, Mayor of Bethlehem; Olivier Adam, Deputy Director, Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); and Nabil Sarraf, Vice-President, Palestine Development and Investment Company. Representatives of governments, including donor countries, intergovernmental organizations and United Nations bodies and agencies will also present their views on the status of international support for the Project.

On Friday afternoon, at 3 p.m., a fourth plenary session is devoted to the role of parliaments, its title is "Voice and responsibilities of parliaments: initiatives in connection with Bethlehem 2000". Speakers include: Miguel Angel Martinez, President of the Inter-Parliamentary Council; Nicola Mancino, President of the Italian Senate; Luciano Violante, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies; Humayun Rasheed Choudhury, Speaker of the Bangladeshi Parliament; and Ahmed Fathy Sorour, Speaker of the People's Assembly, President of the Egyptian Inter-Parliamentary Group.

It is envisaged that the main points of the Conference proceedings will be summarized in a brief final document which will be circulated on Friday afternoon. The closing session of the Conference will take place that day at 6 p.m. in the Plenary Hall of FAO Headquarters.

A report on the proceedings of the Conference will be issued as a publication of the Division for Palestinian Rights of the United Nations Secretariat in due course.

Invitations to attend the Conference have been sent to all Member and observer States, United Nations agencies, bodies and programmes, as well as to interested intergovernmental organizations. All non-governmental organizations accredited to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and a number of other non-governmental organizations interested in the subject have been invited to attend the Conference as well.

The official languages of the Conference will be Arabic, English and French.

Registration with the United Nations Secretariat will take place at FAO Headquarters, Viale delle Terme de Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Building A, Main Hall, starting Tuesday, 16 February, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Wednesday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. All participants, observers and media representatives are kindly requested to avail themselves of the advance registration during these hours in order to receive the necessary badges to enter the premises. On Thursday, 18 February, registration starts at 8.00 a.m. From Monday, 15 February, the Conference Secretariat will be operating at FAO Headquarters, Room A-379, Telephone: 570-57031/57032; Fax: 570-57063.

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Document symbol: GA/PAL/791
Document Type: Press Release
Document Sources: Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP)
Subject: Bethlehem 2000
Publication Date: 11/02/1999