A respected Christian monthly magazine has published an in-depth interview with Khalid Mish'al, widely regarded as the most senior figure in Hamas, the Islamist resistance movement that two years ago won a landslide victory in the Palestinian general election - and is ostracised as a terrorist organisation by the United States and others in the West.
The feature appears in the July 2008 edition of Third Way, a magazine with an evangelical heritage offering Christian comment on culture and society, and published since 1977. It is now owned by the same publishing stable as the Church Times, and over the years has featured interviews with many famous public figures - including top politicians, artists and scientists.
Talking from his home in Damascus, Syria, Khalid Mish'al describes his early childhood influences and says that "the event that changed the course of my life was the [Six-Day War] in 1967. It forced me to leave my homeland and migrate to Jordan and then to Kuwait. It was also a turning point in my thinking - despite my young age - about the conflict and the Palestinian cause."
He adds: "I had witnessed the Palestinian tragedy myself. I had seen the effect of the war on the part of the West Bank where I lived. I had seen the defeat of the Arab armies. I had seen tens of thousands of my people leaving their homeland and travelling east across the Bridge. Subsequently, I shared the Palestinian experience of exile."
The Palestinian leader, whose Hamas organisation has been accused of plotting terror and violence, says he believes in "unchanging human values, which are common to both East and West" and "One God who is just, wise, strong, gentle and merciful to his subjects." He adds: "Islam does not permit the use of force to resolve political disputes within society, or between societies; but when someone uses force against you, you use force to resist them. There is no ambiguity about this."
Of the current conflict, he declares: "[Israelis] want neither a peace based on justice nor a peace based on compromise. They want to keep the land, they want security for themselves and they want to be the masters of the whole region, without recognising the rights of Palestinians. Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas tried to pursue a compromise. Did they achieve peace with the Israelis? So, the obstacle to peace in the region is Israel - and American bias."
Declaring that if a Western idea is good, he has no problem with employing it, Mish'al says: "'Democracy' may be a Western term, but as a conception of how to order the political life of a society, there are many Islamic elements in it... the essential principles of freedom, choice and the rejection of despotism - these are all Islamic concepts."
On recognition of Israel, the Hamas leader, while acknowledging the need for pragmatism, makes a distinction between politics and principle: "[W]e in Hamas, like most of the Palestinian factions, have accepted the idea of a state with the borders of June 4, 1967. However, we have said that we will not recognise Israel. Why? Because the Palestinian people are convinced that this land on which Israel exists is their own land. So, while they accept a state with the borders of 1967, they do not want to give legitimacy to those who occupied their lands 60 or 70 years ago. So, the formula is simply this: if through politics we have accepted a state with the borders of 1967, why should we be forced to renounce our beliefs and feelings and recognise Israel?"
He also denies a parallel between the aspirations of Palestinians for full statehood and that of Israelis: "why should the Jews have a homeland of their own? Would you expect the Christians or the Muslims to have an exclusive homeland of their own? We Muslims never think of the Jews as a nation - to us, they are a religious community. The Jews lived alongside Muslims and Christians for many centuries, and can continue to do so if they wish to - but definitely not as a Zionist state forced upon us."
Khalid Mish'al says he wishes to see peace between the religions and people of goodwill, has no hatred for Israelis, and denies any dishonesty in dealings with the West - "if Hamas wanted to be duplicitous with the West, God forbid, we would not have been so candid in refusing to recognise Israel."
But while strongly denying the 'terrorist' label, and the political taxonomy of the USA underlying it, he continues to believe that 'martyrdom bombings' have played a necessary role in the response of oppressed people to a stronger enemy - pointing out that an Israeli massacre at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, "where Goldstein killed 29 people who were praying and injured scores of others", preceded the first Hamas one by 40 days.
The interview was carried out towards the end of May 2008 by journalist Huw Spanner, and can be read in full here: http://www.thirdwaymagazine.com/354
The title of Third Way magazine has nothing to do with subsequent Blairite usage, and refers to a comment by the theologian Os Guinness in a book entitled The Dust of Death: "How often in the contemporary discussion a sensitive modern man knows that he cannot accept either of the polarised alternatives offered to him. In Christianity, however, there can be a Third Way, a true middle ground which has a basis, is never compromise and is far from silent."