The U.S. State Department criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's newly launched attempt to legalize West Bank outposts on Wednesday, saying the move was "unhelpful" to Mideast peace efforts.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu's office announced instructed Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to set up a task force to explore ways to legalize houses in the settlements that were built on private Palestinian land.

The instruction was issued under heavy pressure from settlers and others on the right in response to the state's decision to demolish several outposts built on private Palestinian land over the next half year.

Commenting on the announcement on Wednesday, a U.S. State Department spokesperson criticized the Israeli moves, indicating that the American stance against settlement building "remains unchanged."

"The United States has a clear policy – we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity," the U.S. official said, adding that Washington opposed "any effort to legalize settlement outposts, which is unhelpful to our peace efforts and would contradict Israeli commitments and obligations."

The State Department spokesperson reiterated the U.S. call "on both parties to take constructive actions to promote peace and avoid actions that complicate this process or undermine trust."

"We urge both parties to take advantage of the Quartet proposal and return to direct talks," the official added.

A statement released by the Prime Minister's Office on Tuesday said that "Netanyahu decided to form a committee that would examine policies and operational methods concerning construction in the West Bank the status of which is still uncertain."

"The committee will form recommendations regarding issues such as those raised in the various appeals to the High Court of Justice," the statement said.

Referring to the reported plan to legalize West Bank outposts, earlier Tuesday, Meretz ML Zehava Gal-On said that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein "must make it clear to Netanyahu that the robbery and theft of private lands cannot be legalized since it constitutes a criminal offence."

"Netanyahu's entire move is meant to further establish Israeli authority over the [Palestinian] territories and deepen the occupation," Gal-On said.

Culture Minister Limor Livnat, one of those who pushed for the task force, told Arutz Sheva radio on Monday that the goal was to examine the issue "without fear of what leftist groups will say. As the government, we need to govern."

Another politician said that even if the task force produced no solutions, its work would take several months and could provide a pretext for postponing the demolitions.