Sitting under a poster of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the white bearded, wheelchair bound, Hamas leader assassinated by Israeli air strike in 2004, Khaled Mashaal picks up a pen to sketch out his illustrated re-interpretation of Robert Frost's famous poem, "The Road Not Taken."
Mashaal draws a dead-end road, the path of failed political negotiations with Israel taken by Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and the late-Yasser Arafat.
Then, offering a kind of Hamas adaptation of Frost's entreaty that travelers take the road "less traveled by," Mashaal pens in arrows circumventing the political dead-end.
"When a series of Palestinian leaders tried one road - the way of political dialogue - and then hit a blockade, do you think it is realistic to keep going down the same path?" asks Mashaal.
"We and all the Arabs see that this option ends in a blockade. They should convince the Arabs and the Palestinians that other options exist and not only one that is blocked. We in Hamas are ready to walk another way in order to reach the goal, which is securing the rights of the Palestinian people and ending the occupation. But Hamas is not ready to walk the same way that Israel and America are forcing us to walk. The road everyone knows is blocked and doesn't get you to the goal you want."
This is Khaled Mashaal's political vision reduced to a rudimentary illustration.
But there are many who would argue that it is Mashaal and Hamas, not Abbas and Arafat, that have led the Palestinian people down a road of resistance that has crashed headlong in the Gaza Strip.
"After the Gaza coup I think they are more isolated," said Ibrahim Hamidi, the Damascus bureau chief for Al Hayat newspaper who has covered Hamas from Syria for more than a decade. "The elections in January, 2006 gave them a lot of legitimacy and opened doors for them with Arab and European leaders. And the legitimacy they won out of the elections has been lost because of the coup."
Since seizing military control of Gaza in June and sending Fatah fighters into exile or hiding, Hamas has been struggling to justify its actions and prevent Israel, the Bush administration, world leaders, Fatah and Abbas from marginalizing the Islamist forces.
Over the course of a rare 90 minute interview this week at his Damascus office, Mashaal offered few indications that Hamas is willing to offer significant concessions to resolve either its war with Israel or its rivalry with Fatah.
Mashaal is widely viewed as the linchpin to any reconciliation talks with Fatah. He is central to prisoner exchange talks that could free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for perhaps hundreds of Palestinian political prisoners. And what Mashaal thinks about Palestinian peace talks with Israel could determine if new talks succeed or fail.
But Hamidi said Mashaal's stature had been tarnished by the events in Gaza, where some suspect that the military wing seized the advantage from Hamas political operatives.
"I think there were two coups," said Hamidi. "One coup by Hamas against Fatah and a second coup by the military wing against the political wing... The political wing was shocked by the behavior of the military wing."
"The political leadership was shocked by how radical their followers are," said Hamidi. "For two or three days, the political wing was not able to control what was going on in Gaza and was not able to deliver many promises."
Mashaal conceded that some mistakes were made during the climactic showdown, but he called them isolated incidents. He declined to get into detail and said he wanted to look forward.
But before reconciliation talks can take place, Abbas has demanded that Hamas apologize.
Mashaal takes this condition as a kind of challenge. Hamas has nothing to apologize for, says Mashaal. If anything, it is Fatah that should say sorry.
"Maybe we should ask who should apologize to whom," says Mashaal. "Who should apologize: The victim or the assailant? Who should apologize? The one who won the elections and was besieged or the people who were cooperating with the enemies of the Palestinian people?"
"Who should apologize? We, or the people who shared the unity government with us and then, after the Mecca agreement, went to the Europeans and asked them not to end the siege on Gaza?"
Even with his pointed jabs, Mashaal consciously avoids taking any direct shots at Abbas. Mashaal says he still wants to work with Abbas, still wants to form a new unity government.
But Abbas is really in no hurry to mend fences with Mashaal, who is arguably the most influential figure in Hamas.
Ironically, the Palestinian factional fissures have created new international unity around the idea of actually helping Abbas, not just taking about helping the Palestinian president.
The goal is to give Abbas enough concrete victories - releasing Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, removing West Bank checkpoints, granting amnesty for militants, and maybe even laying out the contours of a peace deal - so that he can go back to the Palestinian voters in early elections and show that his road to peace is the right one.
First off, there are serious questions about whether Abbas has the legal right to even hold early elections.
To get around these legal complications, Abbas and his aides are talking about simply changing the law, something they have already done several times without being tested because the dysfunctional Hamas-dominated Palestinian legislature can't even generate a quorum so lawmakers can reject or accept the changes.
Even if Abbas does call early elections, any campaign would still have to go through Gaza, where Hamas has no intention of letting the Palestinian president ram a campaign down its throat.
"We will respect the Palestinian elections when they happen at their usual time and date and according to the law, and with guarantees they will not play with the votes," said Mashaal. "We respect the rules of the Democratic game. But we don't respect playing with democracy."
Mashaal said it would be "impossible" for Abbas to hold early elections. And, since Hamas security forces control the Gaza Strip streets, it is unlikely Abbas could ensure a free and fair election takes place there.
The best way to unify the feuding factions, Mashaal says, is to create a unified Palestinian security front that brings together Hamas and Fatah gunmen.
This, of course, has been the heart of the problem ever since Hamas took control of the PA last year. And, with trust between Fatah and Hamas at an all-time low, it's unclear how the two sides can resolve this fundamental issue that was impossible to settle before the Gaza takeover.
On the fundamental issue dividing Hamas and Israel, Mashaal also offered no signs of changing course.
Over the years, Hamas has edged closer to accepting Israel as a neighbor. Yassin tacitly accepted an Israeli state along the 1967 borders, but never agreed to accept its right to exist.
Hamas and Mashaal have maintained that position for years.
"There is a difference between an existing Zionist entity in reality and for me to give it legitimacy," Mashaal told Hamidi of Al Hayat last year. "Yes, there is an entity called Israel, but I am not ready to recognize it."
Mashaal maintained that position this week and said that Abbas and Arafat had won nothing by meeting the international demands that they explicitly recognize Israel's right to peace and security.
"What did America do after Arafat said so?" Mashaal asked. "Nothing. Do you think Arafat's commitments were enough for America to put pressure on Israel to end the occupation and give the rights back to the Palestinians? Why is Hamas asked to do what Arafat did as if it is a solution?"
"In 2005, Mahmoud Abbas was governing without Hamas and without Arafat, something America was demanding. Despite all this, what did they do? Did they give Mahmoud Abbas the Palestinian state as a gift? The problem is not with the Palestinian people or the Palestinian leadership. The problem is with the Israeli attitude and the American bias."
"We in Hamas are ready to walk in other ways in order to reach the goal, which is Palestinian rights and ending the occupation. But Hamas is not ready to walk in the same way that Israel and America are forcing us to walk - the road everyone knows is blocked and doesn't get you to the goal you want."
To explain the way forward, Mashaal pulls out a second piece of paper. First he draws a straight line. Then he draws a curved line cutting back-and-forth across the straight one.
This is the road of resistance. Resistance, says Mashaal, has peaks and valleys. It is like a tide that ebbs and flows. Sometimes, like the Palestinian uprisings of 1987 and 2000, it is roaring. Other times, like now, it is receding. But it never stops flowing.
"The Palestinian people will never stop the intifada," says Mashaal. "Maybe they will calm down. Sometimes they might stop to catch their breath. But the only thing that will stop resistance is ending the occupation."
Like other Hamas leaders, Mashaal exudes an air of confidence. Though Mashaal remains a top target for Israel, security for the interview was relatively innocuous. There were no meeting points or switched cars. Instead, a Hamas member in a suit and tie picked us up at our hotel and drove us straight to Mashaal's not-so-secret office on a hillside outside central Damascus.
We are asked to switch off our cell phones on the drive over and leave them in the car. We walk through a not-so-sensitive metal detector to get into the Hamas headquarters. And our cameras and recorders are taken away to make sure there are no hidden bombs.
But Mashaal is still able to operate from Damascus with a degree of freedom not available to Hamas leaders trapped in Gaza.
"Time is on our side," he says at one point.
Mashaal's confidence may come from the fact that he, like many in Hamas, views the conflict not only through a political lens. He also sees it through the eyes of a religious devotee.
"Time for religious movements is very different," said Hamidi. "Days and weeks and months and years: They can wait. They can bet on time. Yes, maybe politically they are losing. But religiously speaking, they believe they are winning."
Hamas leaders look around the region and see the United States preparing to pull back from Iraq, Hezbollah retaining its stature and power in Lebanon, Ahmadinejad fending off international pressure to moderate his views in Iran, Syria standing firm and weak Israeli leadership with little to offer.
Things may not be shifting quickly, but when Mashaal surveys the scene, he sees long-term trends he believes work to Hamas' advantage.
"If the American administration and Israel want to stop the bloodshed in the region, they should change their approach in dealing with the Israeli-Arab conflict," says Mashaal. "They should offer the Arabs and the Palestinians a different approach."
"The American administration should know that time is not on its side in the region," he says. "Using only force is not the final option."
Next month will mark the tenth anniversary of Israel's botched attempt to kill Mashaal in Amman.
It was on Sept. 25, 1997 that a team of ten would-be Israeli assassins broke into an Amman home and tried to poison Mashaal. But the plot went awry and Jordan captured two of the Israeli spies. That sparked a major diplomatic scandal that only came to an end when Israel agreed to give Jordan the antidote and free Yassin.
Mashaal says he still remembers the details as if they happened yesterday. He says the attack stripped him of a fear of death and reminds him that to die as a martyr for your cause is honorable.
One day, Mashaal hopes to return to his home in the West Bank village of Silwad near Ramallah. But, if he never gets there, Mashaal says he is sure that future Palestinian generations will return.
"If I don't return, I'm sure my son or my grandson will go there," says Mashaal. "I have no doubt about it. As I can see you now, I can also see Silwad and Ramallah and Palestine. I have trust in winning; more than the Israeli leaders."