Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday July 4, 2010. Photo by Flash90
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The government on Thursday reached a deal to suspend planned legislation that would hand the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly on overseeing conversions to Judaism in Israel.

Acting on instructions from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser reached an agreement with Israel Reform and Masorti (traditional) Jewish movements, persuading them to drop a petition to the High Court in exchange for a six-month freeze on enacting the law in the Knesset.

Netanyahu had instructed Hauser to "find any means to maintain the unity of the Jewish nation," said the Prime Minister's spokesman, Nir Hefetz.

During the freeze, a committee led by the chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, will work with the Reform and Masorti movements to draft an alternative to current proposals, put forward by the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, which have angered non-Orthodox Jews at home and abroad.

Netanyahu lauded the compromise: "Change in the law on conversions in Israel must be carried out through broad agreement to prevent a split within the Jewish nation," he said.

"Unity is in the foremost interest of the State of Israel and the Jewish nation, and I intend to defend that principle with determination."

Mark Pelavin, director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism said the cabinet's decision was "a positive development, but we must see if this time will be used to find the compromise or it's just a delay and kicking a ball down the road."