Following the rise of Fascism in Italy, the British diplomat and foreign minister, Lord Curzon, met with Benito Mussolini and asked him straight out what his foreign program would be. Mussolini replied emphatically: "My foreign policy is nothing for nothing."

This week, during the series of performances he gave in Washington, virtuoso orator Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrated just how much diplomatic language has developed since those brutal times - how saying "no" has been upgraded from blunt simplicity to an artistic genre in its own right, no less ornamented and ornate than a baroque artwork.

Indeed, as both Israeli and Palestinian leaders have proven, one can say "no" today with so many nuances and inflections that it sounds like an enthusiastic "yes." Persistent refusal can be garnished with so many conditions and reservations that it sounds like gleaming hope and even wins standing ovations.

From this standpoint, there is no contradiction between the stated hopes that Netanyahu's speech to Congress would turn out to be "the speech of his life" and the sense of a missed opportunity that was voiced afterward. On the contrary, one complements the other.

It was indeed "the speech of his life," a creative peak toward which he has climbed with praiseworthy resolution ever since the days of "if they give, they'll get." Anyone who has read his book "A Place Among the Nations" can only appreciate the consistency and clarity with which he has honed his arguments over the years until they had been refined to perfection in his latest performance.

But to feel in the wake of that speech that an opportunity had been missed? That's like being disappointed that a Bernini fountain didn't launch into a sword dance. Just as one should be satisfied with appreciating the artistry and poetry that are sculpted into every fold of every robe and muscle on the statue, so should one be satisfied with the wonder of Netanyahu's vocal nuances, his rhetorical variations, his pleasant bass voice and his juicy accent, like a ripe Virginia peach. But to be disappointed? By what, really?

From the start, it was an optical illusion to have seen Netanyahu as a ground-breaking statesman rather than a mega-lecturer for whom pessimism, disputation, treading water and fatalism comprise the raw materials of his art. And since two sides are needed for this kind of art, Netanyahu and the Palestinians appear to have been sent into this world bound together like Siamese twins.

No one can better point out the Palestinians' twists and turns, their perverted aspirations, their violence than Netanyahu, and there's no one like them when it comes to rejecting him with an almost euphoric revulsion. Each side bolsters the other and scratches the other's back in the same never-ending tango of nothing for nothing, which repeats itself endlessly: Even before Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat had heard the "yes, but," he had already said the "no" that Netanyahu had been awaiting just "in order to prove." And so on.

Generosity? Hope and goodwill on the part of either side? Vision and courage? Let those wait for someone else, for a different period. Perhaps for the Renaissance.

Someday, when people try to recall the second Netanyahu episode, perhaps they will be thankful to him for the somewhat comic interlude of two or three years that he provided from the bloodbath, the wars and the suicide bombings - an interlude during which everyone was preoccupied with rhetoric, history and the length of the applause, with clever linguistic subtleties such as "settlements" versus "settlement blocs," or "1967 lines" with or without the definite article. Especially since experience teaches that every fun period like this one (or like the one prior to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Yisrael Galili and Moshe Dayan amused themselves with the differences between "territories" and "the territories" or "verbal" as opposed to "written" policy ) - like nothingness itself - has a tendency to end suddenly and surprisingly, in a big bang and lamentations.