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Senior Foreign Ministry staffers, who gathered for a meeting two weeks ago, were glad to see that one of the workers had brought a honey cake. They were less pleased by what she had to say: "I want to celebrate the new year, and also to mark three years in which I have not received an appointment," said the worker, a diplomat who formerly headed a legation overseas and today has a temporary job in a junior capacity.

The worker is not alone in her plight. The Foreign Ministry has a serious problem managing its personnel: Some 100 employees who returned from overseas missions in recent years have yet to be reassigned. Most have "temporary placements" of various sorts, or fill ad hoc assignments. A few are at home, receiving a salary and waiting in vain for an appointment.

The workers in limbo constitute 15 percent of the personnel roster at ministry headquarters in Jerusalem, and their problem causes agitation and frustration. Especially severe is the plight of 35 veteran senior staffers who returned from overseas missions and never reestablished their footing in the ministry. They compete for the two or three deputy director generalships that open up each year, and usually find that someone younger and more junior has been appointed, forcing them to wait for the next round. Thus experienced diplomats have become a "bottleneck" of faulty human resources management. A few of them even accuse the ministry of deliberately freezing their reassignment, for reasons of in-house politics.

Those waiting include Yuval Rotem, former consul general in Los Angeles; Liora Herzl, former ambassador to Oslo; Yossi Amrani, former consul general in San Francisco; and Yaakov Levy, former ambassador to Geneva. Hanan Goder, former ambassador to Eritrea, is working for the time being in the information department, as is Tali Samash, former consul general in Marseilles. Amos Radian, who was deputy ambassador to Rome, managed an international conference on homeland security as a temporary project. Yossi Regev, former ambassador to Chile, assists the head of the internal inspection department. Tzvika Aviram, who was administration officer in Paris and oversaw the embassy's reconstruction after it burned down, now assists the regional administrative officer for Africa. Others fill relatively junior positions, considering their seniority and rank in the foreign service.

Three aides to former foreign minister Silvan Shalom are also awaiting appointments: former ministry director general Ron Prosor, head of the diplomatic desk Yaki Dayan and political adviser Ofer Bavli.

Foreign Ministry Director General Aharon Abramovich yesterday invited "the unassigned" for a first meeting in his office. Some 40 staffers came and told him that the ministry has paid insufficient attention to their problem and taken no interest in their personal plight.

The proposed solution is to "lend" their services to universities or commercial bodies such as the Manufacturers Association, which could use diplomats with language skills and good connections abroad, while preserving their civil service rank and salary.