Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to extend a freeze on the advancement of a controversial civil conversion bill that was proposed by the Yisrael Beiteinu party last year.

In exchange for the extended moratorium, the Reform and Conservative movements agreed to hold off on their petitions to the High Court of Justice on the conversion issue.

A preliminary reading of the civil conversion bill passed in the Knesset last summer, prompting a storm of protest by Jewish communities around the world. The outcry led Netanyahu to agree to the first moratorium.

Netanyahu appointed Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky to mediate between the parties.

The first six-month moratorium expired on December 31. The new moratorium will expire on July 10, 2011.

The bill, authored by Yisrael Beitenu MK David Rotem, would allow municipal rabbis to perform conversions, which currently very few courts are authorized to do.

Opponents agree the core intent of helping 350,000 mainly Russian-speaking non-Jews living in Israel is worthy, but they take issue with the bill's wording, which de facto grants sole authority over conversions to the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.