To reply to Shalom: The ethnic cleansing I speak of consists of a massacre of over 100 Arabs at Deir Yassin during Plan Dalet along with various other events. Haganah, Palmach, and Irgun conquered several cities including Haifa and Acre, with the result of over 250,000 displaced Arabs. There were also instances of Jewish terrorism, including the December 30th bombing in Haifa in which Irgun members threw two bombs into a crowd of Arab workers, killing 6 and injuring 42. Of course, this part of a larger scenario of attacks and reprisals by both sides, often against civilian targets. Neither the Palestinians (a term I am using here for simplicity, although your point is well taken) nor the Israelis are blameless since both sides targeted and killed civilians. You already did a good job of noting Arab violence against Jews during that period so I'll leave others to read your comments :)
Anyway, on to the speaker analysis. After we arrived in Israel, we had a short stop at the Tomb of Samuel (Nebe Samuel) where we got to know each other and ate a small snack. Summer in Israel is much different than winter; while the weather during my Birthright trip this February was occasionally hot, summer heat is stifling. We checked into our somewhat grubby hotel in Jerusalem and tried to sleep off our jet lag.
The next morning, we woke early, ate breakfast, then took a bus to our first speaker, Pinchas Inbari, a journalist and Palestinian affairs analyst.. This talk was titled "Palestinian Political Culture" and it generally lived up to its name. Mr. Inbari was obviously very knowledge; unfortunately, his English was not strong which did not work well with his tendency to ramble. He did manage to give a decent if fragmented account of the histories of Fatah, Hamas, and the PLO (for more background on this, Wikipedia is a decent source. Really.).
In his view, Fatah is willing to negotiate for peace despite its continued non-recognition of Israel and terror attacks. Unfortunately, a willingness to negotiate is not enough. Any Palestinian political entity worth negotiating with must be able to enforce any agreements reached. Right now, none exists since Hamas controls Gaza and Fatah controls the West Bank. Even if peace could be achieved with Fatah, Hamas would not recognize it, thus perpetuating the violence.
Mr. Inbari also highlighted the fact that Israel presented generous offers at Camp David and later, Taba, all of which were rejected. There is significant contention over exactly how good these offers were when all of the details were taken into account but it does show that reasonable negotiations are possible. Unfortunately, those talks fell apart although the exact reason (either Palestinian refusal to negotiate in good faith or unreasonable Israeli demands depending on your POV) is still disputed. Mr. Pinchas also emphasized that most Israelis and Palestinians today do want peace; the conflict is over the shape of that peace. This is important to keep in mind as the analysis moves forward.
On a sidenote, there were points were our group's leader, Yitzhak Sokoloff, took over the lecture and provided his own thoughts on the topic. At first, I thought this was likely an isolated incident arising from Mr. Pinchas' halting, rambling English. However, Yitzhak overstepped his bounds at several other points during the trip. I will talk more about that at the end of the speaker analysis section but it is something to remember when I mention the bias toward the Israeli right inherent in the trip and its selection of speakers.