An oil-less state in an oil-rich neighborhood, Jordan thrives, nonetheless, on petrodollars. In the past decade, the flow of Arab oil money throughout the Mideast has contributed more than anything else to boost Jordan from a poor desert land flooded with Palestinian refugees into a secure state with a relatively modern economy. But this progress has come at a price. And the price is only now becoming apparent.
Political and economic analysts in Amman say Jordan's dependence on the Gulf states - not only to buy Jordanian products and employ Jordanian workers, but also for critical economic aid and budget support - is a limiting factor in King Hussein's ability to move forcefully in support of President Reagan's Middle East peace initiative.
This dependence - and a resulting vulnerability to economic sanctions or aid cutoffs - explains, in part, King Hussein's reluctance to move toward peace talks without first obtaining a supportive Arab consensus, including the blessing of the Palestine Liberation Organization, analysts say.
They note that King Hussein is not an Anwar Sadat in diplomatic style, nor has Jordan Egypt's ability to weather the kind of storm the Egyptians faced from the Arab world after signing the Camp David accords with Israel in 1978.
The reality, according to observers, is that the King is highly sensitive to Jordan's need to maintain the good will of neighboring Arab states, particularly the conservative, oil-producing states of the Gulf. He is also said to be aware of the dependence that results from Arab-supplied budget relief.
The Reagan peace initiative was introduced at a time when the Jordanian economy was becoming ever more vulnerable. By late 1982 Jordan was being hit with what one economist called a ''one-two punch'' as a result of economic slowdown in the Gulf and the drawn-out Iran-Iraq war.
In an effort to cope with this one-two punch, the Jordanians are looking to Egypt as a potential new export market. The resumption of bilateral trade would mark the first direct commercial links with Egypt since Amman broke relations with Cairo in protest of the Camp David accords.
Jordanian businessmen say the move to resume ties with Egypt - which supports the Reagan plan - was prompted more by economic than political considerations.
One Amman banker estimates that the Egyptian market may in the first year of trade make up between 30 and 40 percent of what has been lost from the now dwindling Iraqi export market. Jordan will remain heavily dependent on the Gulf - particularly for budget relief.
Such a financial link was formalized at the Baghdad summit of 1978. Seven Arab states voted to supply Jordan - as a frontline state bordering Israel and as a declared opponent of the Camp David accords - $1.25 billion annually in aid. (In fact, actual receipts between 1979 and 1981 were only about $1.1 billion a year, because Algeria and Libya did not pay.)
The Baghdad summit aid was to be used primarily for military expenditures. But an estimated 60 percent of the funds have been allocated instead for ''civilian'' purposes, according to a diplomatic source.
In fact, the funds have become a vital cushion in the economy, offsetting Jordan's chronic trade deficits. Imports in recent years have comprised about 80 percent of Jordan's gross domestic product. Oil imports alone more than offset the country's total earnings from exports.
Jordan imports all of its oil (about 20,000 to 30,000 barrels a day in 1981) from Saudi Arabia and pays the international market price. Consequently, the Jordanians were not displeased to see the price of OPEC oil fall in March from $ 34 to $29 a barrel. That price drop will save Jordan, by one estimate, $75 million to $100 million. On the other hand, the Jordanians were also quite nervous about a potential collapse of OPEC and oil prices because of Jordan's symbiotic economic links with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
Had a collapse occured, the jobs of an estimated 310,000 Jordanian workers in the Gulf (who send home $1.3 billion a year) may have been threatened. Their only alternative would be to return home to an economy already at full employment. In addition, the Arab market for Jordanian products - slack because of the lingering world oil glut and economic slowdown - might have dried up completely.
Jordan has been trying to close its export-import gap. The government is encouraging the growth of a manufacturing sector to produce goods to be sold abroad. But a combination of slow market conditions in the Gulf, increased competition from other Arab states producing similar goods, and competition from Asian nations producing cheaper products has limited the growth of Jordanian manufactured exports.
On top of that, there are signs that Baghdad summit aid receipts last year fell to about $850 million - and that Arab aid will fall even farther this year. This is in part a result of tighter budgets in the Gulf, particularly that of war-ravaged Iraq - which was the second-largest contributor of economic aid to Jordan after Saudi Arabia.
Should the Arab aid funding be stopped completely, observers say, the Jordanian economy would face a significant shock in the form of a sizable balance of payments deficit.
Central Bank officials say there is a 50-50 chance that when Jordan's 1982 final economic statistics are released the bottom line - the balance of payments - will show a deficit for the first time in some years.
Iraq has been a major factor in all this. Since the start of the Iran-Iraq war and the closure of the main Iraqi port of Basra on the Gulf, Jordan has enjoyed a bonanza in the trade and trucking business to Iraq. Much of the business came through Jordan's only port, Aqaba in south Jordan. Other business came form Jordan's growing manufacturing sector.
In 1980 Iraq accounted for 40 percent of Jordanian exports. The market held firm until last year's big push by Ayatollah Khomeini' Iranian forces to ''liberate'' Baghdad. Though the fighting didn't get close to the Iraqi capital, it took its toll on the economy. By the summer of 1982, as one analyst put it: ''Iraq began to run out of money.''
Iraq's tight straits have made Saudi aid all the more important. ''It is not in the interest of Saudi Arabi to see Jordan go down the drain, its as simple as that,'' says an Amman banker.