IT SEEMS that the ageing politicians who appear on the official Palestine television station are in “urgent need” of a makeover. So, at least, said one of the channel’s directors in a letter to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. He proposed hiring a make-up artist, a prestigious one who has “already worked with several international stations.” Her fee, though, was $12,000 per month—roughly what the average Palestinian will earn in four years. Many such average people are distinctly unimpressed by that kind of extravagance. The document, published last month on a local website, is the latest scandal to roil Palestinian politics. In August it was a letter from an Abbas adviser, begging the foreign minister of Bahrain for $4 million to build an exclusive housing complex for Palestinian officials. Education officials, meanwhile, have been accused of selling off a batch of 1,000 medical scholarships offered by the Venezuelan government.
The Palestinian Authority (PA), the limited self-governing body in the occupied territories, has been plagued by waste, graft and accusations of both since its inception in 1994 following the Oslo accords. When auditors looked at the books three years later, they concluded that nearly 40% of the budget had been frittered away. By 2006, according to the PA’s own attorney-general, officials had embezzled some $700m.
Aman, a local watchdog group, claims that the bloated public-sector payroll includes an unknown number of “ghost employees” whose salaries line the pockets of managers and ministers. There are ghost businesses, too, like a $6m joint Palestinian-Italian venture to build a pipe factory that existed only on paper.
Asked to name the “most serious problem” in their society, 24% of Palestinians say it is corruption—only slightly below the 28% who point to the Israeli occupation. Four-fifths believe their leaders are corrupt. A new poll found that, for the first time, more than half of them want to dissolve the authority altogether. “A majority believes that it has become a burden,” said Khalil Shikaki, who carried out the poll. Perhaps not even a $12,000 makeover can help.
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