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Passport control at Dulles Airport. Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty

Bennett left Washington with a notable "deliverable": Biden had promised to work toward bringing Israel into the U.S. visa waiver program.

Why it matters: Admission to the program has been an Israeli aspiration for decades. The issue resonates with many Israelis who may have family, friends or business connections in the U.S. but are intimidated by the visa process or put off by the costs.

  • Getting a visa waiver would be a huge win for any Israeli prime minister domestically.
  • Yes, but: It's going to be a lot harder than Bennett may have initially thought.

Behind the scenes: Bennett and his advisers saw this issue as a potential tangible achievement from the visit.

  • They asked both the White House and the State Department to include a line about it in their readouts of the meetings with Bennett, Israeli officials say.
  • Israel’s outgoing ambassador in Washington, Gilad Erdan, tried since January to make progress on the issue and advised Bennett to make it a focus of his meetings.

The other side: The U.S. side agreed to include the issue in the readouts as part of its efforts to make the visit a success, and Biden even mentioned it in his public remarks alongside Bennett.

  • But U.S. sources briefed on the matter tell me it was a public gesture, not a sign that there will be news on this issue anytime soon.
  • The main holdup is that in order to enter the visa waiver program, a country must have a very low rate of visa rejections. Israel's rejection rate is too high, and it would likely take 5–10 years to qualify, the U.S. sources said.
  • The U.S. has also long pushed Israel to change its treatment of Arab Americans at Ben Gurion Airport, which has led many Americans to allege harassment, and to allow Palestinian Americans seeking to visit the West Bank to enter through the airport and not through the Allenby border crossing with Jordan.

What’s next: Israeli officials agree the process could take time, but they have been stressing that this was the first time a president had directed his administration to work on the issue.

Go deeper

Oct 21, 2021 - World

Scoop: Israel and France hold secret talks to end NSO spyware crisis

Anyone listening? Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata secretly visited Paris several days ago for talks with his counterparts at the Élysée aimed at ending the crisis around the alleged use of Pegasus spyware developed by Israeli firm NSO to hack the cell phones of President Emmanuel Macron and other top French officials, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: The alleged misuse of NSO software has become a major diplomatic headache for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government. The crisis led to a partial freeze on diplomatic, security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and France and the suspension of high-level bilateral visits.

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.