Usama Hamdan, since mid-2010 in charge of Hamas's international relations (in effect, its foreign minister), was born in al-Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip in 1965. After earning his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1986 from Jordan's Yarmouk University, where he was active in the Islamic Student Movement, he worked in private industry in Kuwait until the first Gulf war. Appointed Hamas representative to Iran in 1992, he held that post until 1998, when he was named Hamas representative to Lebanon. Since taking charge of the movement's foreign affairs portfolio, Hamdan commutes between Beirut and Damascus.
Hamdan agreed to meet a small group from the Institute for Palestine Studies at his Beirut office, and when directions for reaching it became complicated, he offered to send a driver. How necessary this was became obvious as the car threaded its way through the narrow labyrinthine streets of Dahiya, the poor Shi'i suburb south of Beirut, festooned with banners and laundry and posters of Hizballah leader Shaykh Hasan Nasrallah. The building where Hamas had its offices was modest and nondescript, not unlike the other apartment buildings on the unpaved but clean street, quiet but for a group of children kicking a ball.
The reception room where Hamdan met us was spare: a laminated coffee table, a couch, chairs lining the walls, a few small tables. Large black-and-white portraits of Shaykh Ahmad Yasin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi, killed in targeted Israeli airstrikes in Gaza in 2005 and 2006 respectively, adorned one wall. There were also large photographs of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock and Haram al-Sharif, and a colored poster, almost like a chart, of Hamas leaders assassinated by Israel over the years.
Hamdan, casually dressed and relaxed, served the coffee and tea himself, spooning the sugar while chatting in fluid English before the tape recorder was turned on. The interview, conducted jointly by the Journal of Palestine Studies (JPS) and the Majallat al-Dirasat al-Filastiniya (MDF), JPS's sister publication, took place on 13 December 2010. The following are excerpts of the two-hour interview.