When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came out of his lengthy sitdown with President Obama, he focused as much on the question of the right of return of Palestinian refugees as he did on the dispute over the 1967 boundaries. "It's time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly it's not going to happen," said Netanyahu - and with good reason, for within a matter of just a few years, an influx of refugees would effectively erase Israel as a Jewish state.
If Obama agrees, there is a significant step he can take now - namely, working to dismantle the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), whose very existence has been built around perpetuating this so-called right.
The call for a Palestinian right of return is based on a highly specific - and discredited - reading of history, which assumes Israeli responsibility for creating the refugee problem via "ethnic cleansing." Restitution from the allegedly guilty party, then, involves the eventual return of the refugees and their descendants, even when they are generations removed from the initial "crime" of Israel's founding.
To an outsider, UNRWA may appear to be a humanitarian group providing education, social services and other aid to Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In reality, it helps destroy the chances of Arab-Israeli peace, promotes terrorism and holds Palestinians back from rebuilding their lives. And U.S.taxpayers fund all this to the tune of nearly $200 million a year.
An anomaly within the world of refugee relief, UNRWA's job is to keep Palestinian refugees in suspended animation - and at low living standards, and in camps - until a formal peace settlement is reached and recognized by the General Assembly.
The suffering and anger of these millions is maintained as a weapon to encourage them toward terrorism and intransigence. That stymies the peace process rather than furthering it.
For decades, UNRWA schools have bred anti-Western, anti-American and anti-Semitic indoctrination. Agency-operated - and, by extension, America-funded - schools decorate their classrooms with flags and banners celebrating terrorist groups. All this must stop if we ever want to see any kind of true progress toward peace.
The vast majority of UNRWA's employees are Palestinian, and many local offices are dominated by radicals. UNWRA facilities have been documented as being used to store and transport weapons, and even serving as military bases.
That's not all. UNRWA workers have abused their diplomatic privilege to engage in or encourage terrorism. Television crews have filmed UNRWA employees escorting armed Palestinian fighters in UN vehicles.
As such, UNRWA has broken all the rules that are presumed to govern humanitarian enterprises. But that should come as no surprise; by design, UNRWA is the opposite of other refugee relief operations, such as those orchestrated by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. UNHCR seeks to resettle refugees; UNRWA is dedicated to blocking resettlement while refugees await their rightful return to Israel.
If the world community is serious about preparing the Palestinian people for peace with Israel, it's long past time it recognizes UNWRA as part of the problem.
All the services UNRWA currently provides to the Palestinians should be handed over to parallel agencies within the UN.
It seems like a silly thing to have to say, but let us say it bluntly: A UN agency that's invested in perpetual conflict will not help bring about peace.
Romirowsky is a lecturer in history at Pennsylvania State University and an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Forum.