D.C. Del. Water E. Fauntroy, seeking support for the D.C. voting rights amendment, promised a group of Jewish legislators here today that he will draft a statement criticizing the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The Jewish legislators told Fauntroy, in return, that they would vote for the amendment if the PLO criticism is worded to their liking.
The unusual negotiation, carried out at a private State House meeting this morning, marked Fauntroy's second effort in a week to retrieve support for the voting rights amendment that was lost when he met with PLO leader Asser Arafat last fall.
The four delegates with whom Fauntroy met today have indicated that they might reverse their positions of last year and vote against the amendment's ratification because of Fauntroy's activities. Their support is considered crucial because the measure failed by only one vote in the House last year after passing the Senate and the position of most state delegates has not changed since then.
Both last week and yesterday, the Jewish delegates told Fauntroy that he would have to make a statement about the PLO in a national forum before they would recommit themselves to voting rights. But in agreeing to draft a statement yesterday, Fauntroy did not necessarily resolve his differences with the legislators.
What Fauntroy agreed to do, according to sources familiar with the meeting, was to compose a statement and meet with the four delegates again to review it, perhaps by early next week. However, the exact context of the statement was not settled yesterday.
Fauntroy suggested at the meeting that the statement would stress his previously stated opposition to "terrorism" while mentioning no specific group. However, the delegates argued that the statement should contain direct references to the PLO and Arafat.
One possible compromise that was suggested by the delegates, sources said, was for Fauntroy to criticize the PLO's support for the Iranian militants holding American Hostages in Tehran.
Such a statement would sidestep any reference to the PLO's activities in the Middle East and allow Fauntroy to speak simply as an American citizen supporting American hostages sources said.
Fauntroy refused to discuss his possible statement after emerging from the hour-long meeting in Senate lounge with delegates Ida Rulen (D-Montgomery), Steven Sklar, Paula Mollinger and David Shapiro. He urged the Jewish legislators to do likewise. "It's too early to say." he responded when asked if he intended to make a public statement on the PLO. "We haven't concluded our discussions."'
Fauntroy also met with state Sen. Clarence W. Blount, an influential black supporter of the amendment in the Senate, and encountered both House Speaker Benjamin Cardin and Senate President James Clark in the statehouse's hallways. Clark told Fauntroy that the voting rights amendment had come up in a leadership meeting this morning and that he hoped "to get to it soon."
Privately, two of the Jewish legislators indicted yesterday that they still support the voting rights amendment and might vote for it even if Fauntroy did not produce a statement that was acceptable to them. But in public, all were saying that they hoped Fauntroy would clarify his position on the matter. w
"Our purpose is to get a statement from Fauntroy that will put into proper focus where he stands and where the country stands on the PLO," said Del. Shapiro (D-Baltimore City). "Such a statement will. . . benefit the D.C. voting rights amendment."
"The ball is now in Fauntroy's court," Shapiro added, "and the minute clock is ticking away."
Fauntroy has already tried repeatedly -- and with little success -- to explain his meetings with Arafat to skeptical Maryland politicians.
During his visit here last week he issued a series of statements that characterized his role as that of a concerned observer who met with Arafat in an attempt to stop the violence in the Middle East, not to take sides on it. "The only issue on which I and [the delegates] disagree," he said repeatedly, "is on whether I should have made a direct appeal."
What Fauntroy has not done until now is to directly criticize or denounce either the PLO or Arafat. He says only that he opposes violence by any party. That position has not alienated most of the legislature, or most of the state's established Jewish community, which continues to endorse the voting rights amendment.