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Israeli opposition leader Shimon Peres, a former Israeli prime minister, is proposing Jerusalem be declared the capital of the world as a way of getting around competing Israeli and Arab claims to the city.

According to his spokesman, Yoram Dori, the dovish leader of Israel’s opposition Labor Party suggested putting the important religious shrines in Jerusalem under United Nations stewardship. He said the holy sites in Jerusalem’s walled Old City could be declared a “world capital.”

The Maariv daily said Peres raised the idea Monday with visiting Russian officials.

The “world capital” idea appeared to be largely symbolic. According to Maariv, Peres proposed that the U.N. secretary-general be declared mayor, in which capacity he would appoint Jewish and Arab deputy mayors to administer the two sides’ intertwined neighborhoods. Kofi Annan is the current secretary-general of the U.N.

The United Nations has in the past taken a position on Jerusalem, one of the most intractable issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Under a 1947 General Assembly resolution partitioning British mandatory Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, the city was to be internationalized, belonging to neither side.

During the 1948-49 war that followed Israel’s creation, Israel seized the western part of the city and Jordan the eastern side, including the walled Old City with its Christian, Jewish and Muslim holy sites. In the 1967 Mideast war, Israel recaptured east Jerusalem – along with the West Bank and Gaza.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s predecessor, Ehud Barak, offered the Palestinians limited sovereignty in Arab parts of Jerusalem and in most of the Old City – but the plan was rejected by Yasser Arafat, who launched an uprising that has claimed the lives of hundreds of Arabs and Jews. Barak lost a bid for re-election to Sharon.

Among the ideas reportedly considered during those talks were divine sovereignty or no sovereignty over the chief point of contention in the city – a holy site known by Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as Haram as-Sharif, where the Al Aqsa Mosque was built on the site of the biblical Jewish Temples.

Peres’ 1996 election loss to Benjamin Netanyahu is partly attributed to Netanyahu’s politically effective charge that Peres would divide Jerusalem. Peres was chosen to reassume the leadership of the opposition Labor Party after it again lost elections earlier this year.

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