"I'm keeping the portfolios as another option to expand the government further and bring in the Labor party later on," he told Likud ministers on Sunday morning.
In addition to the Foreign Ministry, Netanyahu is also holding onto the Communications Ministry, the Economy Ministry and the Regional Cooperation Ministry—all of which have been operating without a minister for months on end.
He also noted to Likud ministers that efforts to bring Labor into the government would include "not just portfolios, but also diplomatic moves."
But sources close to Herzog said he has no intention of joining the government. "The prime minister has made his decision. We've left that chapter behind us," one close associate said.
Senior Labor MKs echoed these sentiments on Sunday. "There's no chance we'll join (the government). The curtains have closed, the deadline has passed, and now I hope we can return to being a combative opposition for the public who voted for us," said MK Eitan Cabel.
Following the resignation of Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, an unprecedented situation emerged in which none of the Likud party's ministers is holding any of the three top portfolios, despite being the largest faction in the Knesset with 30 seats of out 120. Netanyahu is holding onto foreign affairs, while the defense portfolio went to Yisrael Beytenu's Avigdor Lieberman and the Finance Ministry has gone to Kulanu's Moshe Kahlon.
Another belief is that the prime minister reportedly decided not to hand out the foreign affairs portfolio at present because he wants to avoid confrontation with two of the party's senior ministers, Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who are both claiming Netanyahu promised the post to them.
Katz has a written promise to receive one of the three top portfolios if the circumstances allow it. Erdan, meanwhile, said in private conversations that he received a verbal promise to receive the foreign affairs portfolio.
But they're not the only ones vying for the Foreign Ministry. Also looking for an upgrade are Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, considered one of Netanyahu's closest allies, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi), who claimed in the past that the ministry had been promised to him, but said he will concede the position and remain in the Education Ministry. It is possible Bennett decided to stick to the Education Ministry so fellow Bayit Yehudi member Ayelet Shaked could remain in the Justice Ministry.