The director of UNRWA's office in New York, Andrew Whitley, has no right to tell the Palestinians that they should abandon their inalienable right to return to their homeland.
He represents a UN agency - one in charge of exactly the people whose rights he should uphold and advocate - and as such, he must abide by the UN resolutions, which enshrine the Palestinians' right of return or accept compensation if they so wish.
UNRWA Commissioner General Filippo Grandi disassociated himself and the organisation he runs from Whitley's position, denying that there is any change in the stance of his agency on the Palestinians' right to return to their homeland.
His stand is principled, but he needs to go further and reprimand the official in question for crossing his line of duty and repudiating UNRWA's official line, implicitly that of the UN, on the Palestinians' right to repatriation.
No international agency or individual working for it has the right to violate UN resolutions - UNRWA even less so. It should, on the contrary, work hard to support the relevant UN resolutions on the Palestinian question and the Palestinian refugees' well-being until the moment comes when they can finally exercise their choice to return or accept compensation.
It is admirable that the Palestinians still long to return to their ancestral homeland despite the passage of so many years since they were forced to leave it under the barrel of Jewish guns. Such stand does not deserve the treatment Whitley gives it.
Moreover, the timing of the unfortunate comment could not have been worse. The Palestinians want to engage Israel in serious peace talks on the remaining core issues, and their right of return happens to be on top of the agenda for these talks.
The wrong committed by the New York UNRWA director requires speedy rectification, to avoid further complicating the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.