Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's bid for a settlement was Israelis supporter by governments in the small, conservative Arab states here in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, even though they are too cautions to come out officially and say so.

"What we need is an Arab-Israeli settlement, by mutual consent, and Sadat is saying so sincerely. His spectacular gesture is a challenge to extremists in both camps, Israel and the Arab world," a Gulf foreign minister said in a background interview.

With a general pro-American mood prevailing in the region, it is thought that this "most open period of Arab-American communications," as one diplomat described it, might be in jeopardy if tensions revive.

At least one step removed from the Arab-Israeli struggle, the Gulf states - taking their cue from Saudi Arabia, the regional Arab power - try to insulate local public opinion from direct exposure to the current inter-Arab debate. Bland official statements emphasize the need for Arab unity, tacitly reaffirming the classic position that Egypt, which has spent blood, not money, can best decide on its own tactics to pursue Eyptian and Arab interests.

In fact, sources in the Gulf states - which help bankroll Sadat - are in a position to appreciate Egypt's economic difficulties, and officials here want an end to Arab-Israeli confrontation, both to maintain the Arab status quo and also to enable their subsidies to help Egypt's economy rather than its army.

Apprehensive about the consequences if Sadat fails, top officials in several Arab states in the region predict privately that the repercussions will be felt in this region for better or worse. The primary impact will be on U.S. economic links - which bring American technology in exchange for oil.

Arabs would call for a renewed oil boycott which supporters of Israel in the United States could step up their assault on the Arab boycott policy and other steps that threaten American trade with the Gulf states.

The biggest fear here is of Israel's response to Sadat. "It is a test of Israeli intentions, and so far there is no sign Israel really wants to negotiate a peace settlement even with Egypt, even in Sinai, let alone on the Golan Heights or the West Bank," said Bahrain's foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Mobarak Khailifa. Sources in other gulf capitals - who refused to be identified - shared his analysis.

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Fear of extremists like neighboring Iraq and domestic pressure groups like the large, important Palestinian communities has prompted these governments to hedge their bets in public.

Although there have been no reported violent reactions, the Palestinian population in these conservative states is not always tame. Both women in the recent Lufthansa hijacking were Gulf-born Palestinians whose parents live here.

While the Gulf states apparently were not consulted by Sadat before his trip to Israel, they have seen Egyptian emissaries since the visit, but from Sadat's unofficial entourage so as to avoid any public impression that Sadat was trying to link them to his diplomacy.

Meanwhile, Egyptian journalists and intellectuals, numerous in the lower Gulf, have produced generally favorable local media coverage. "Sadat Steps on the Gas" was the flavor of a typical headline here. Even extremely religious Egyptians, such as former members of the Moslem Brotherhood, have rallied to Sadat, and refrained from criticizing his trip.

This gap between public and private views has led to disrepancies in reactions in every Gulf state.

The United Arab Emirates' president, Sheikh Zayad, who is ruler of Abu Dhabi, canceled national day ceremonies this weekend. Officially it was because of concern over Arab dis-unity, but there have been no hints of a cut in support to Egypt.

Kuwait allowed its press to snipe at Sadat's diplomacy, but the government blocked more active dissent.

When most Gulf states followed the example of Saudi Arabia in declining Egypt's offer of satellite television coverage of Sadat in Jerusalem. Qatar ignored the blackout. The tiny state, whose state-run news service is managed by the Egyptian news agency, programmed full television coverage watch nightly by viewers throughout the region.

In Bahrain, which has the smallest Palestinian community, an official said. "Egypt made war for the Arabs, now it is the country to take the lead is making peace for us."

All these sheikhdoms, which feel politically vulnerable in the Arab world, are concerned about a possible Arab schism in opposition to Sadat. Two diplomats were relieved, however, by indications from Tripoli that Syria refused to abandon Security Council Resolution 242 and hopes for a negotiated settlement.

Western analysts concur that these Arab states, comfortably preoccupied with their own oil-financed development want the Arab-Israeli conflict settled fast before more young gulf Arabs are radicalized.